Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Parable of Modern Education

Centro-Matic--"Numbers One and Three" (mp3)

If you want to know why America cannot get a handle on how to fix our educational system, look no further than this little story:

As part of budget issues, our school offered a number of our older faculty the opportunity to retire early, as early as 62 years old, with some economic incentives. Among the teachers who took the "buyout" is a math teacher whom I have known for 28 years, who taught at this school for a good ten years before that. Fine. That's just the background.

This man is the finest math teacher that I have ever known.

Not only is he highly-skilled at teaching all levels of mathematics, but he also, when department head, was instrumental in the design of the integrated curriculum, which, rather than offering discrete courses in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry, developed a multi-year course that developed the connections and relationships between all three. Currently, he teaches or has recently taught classes in Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, and Graph Theory and Combinatorics, all rare offerings at the high school level.

But it goes beyond that. This is a man for whom the ultimate equation in life is Mathematics=Beauty. He is not a teacher for whom assigning a set of problems is a way to occupy students' time by keeping busy. He is a teacher who has so fully assimilated the field of numbers and abstract concepts into his being that he lives and breathes the subject. He is, by any measuring stick, a master teacher.

And it goes beyond that. His love of math and continual study of it took his lifelong learning into numerous other areas. Even as he expanded his knowledge of math, it also made him want to learn more about the essence of other disciplines, particularly humanities like History and English. He began to read a variety of novels. He started writing all kinds of pieces for the Faculty Newsletter. Even poetry.

And it goes beyond that. He was essential to the formative years of our school's Professional Development program, particularly the training and use of mentors to assist younger teachers. He tried to carry this vision into later versions with varying degrees of success. He did not lose sight of his original goals of refining and expanding his own knowledge and teaching and helping others to do the same.

But now, at 62, he can't get a job. You see, when he retires from our school at the end of this year, he plans to return to the Midwest, where both he and his wife originate from. Maybe, he thought, I'd teach at few more years at the local high school.

The problem is that the public schools will not touch him. They will not even entertain a discussion with a man who has four decades of teaching experience, who can teach all levels of high school math (and a good bit of college level stuff) with dexterity and engagement, who has been a curricular leader and a superb practicioner. The reason for this is that he does not have an education degree and a teaching certificate. No, he was a Mathematics major.

In his future midwestern home state, there is an inflexible rule that you must have a teaching certificate, and the requisite education courses that go with it, in order to be allowed to teach public high school children. There is no allowance, no waiver, for experience or background. There is a rule and he must meet it or he cannot teach.

I don't need to write out the moral of this story. What you've just read, my friends, should tell you all that you need to know.

1 comment:

Sara C said...

Love this. Serious love.