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Are Ed classes really “guts?”

Okay . . . I hadn’t heard the term “guts” actually used before. We used the word “cake” as in “easy as cake” and “cakewalk.” We also used “mick” for . . . that’s right, “mickey mouse.”

And, yes, all three terms describe many of the education classes at my school of choice (aka Harvard of the Plains). I especially remember some sort of multimedia class where the most difficult task was mastering the mimeograph machine.

Several years ago I wrote a quick post (apparently while in a grumpy mood) describing my thoughts about how college kids who would make great teachers choose not to become teachers – in other words, kids who should not be in teaching become teachers because it seems easy.

We’ve all heard the stories about how college athletes who want to become coaches go into the education field and don’t worry too much about becoming great teachers as long as they have time to work on game plans. And unfortunately, many of us have seen those coaches in our schools.

Now . . . before I get tons of cards and letters from social studies teachers / coaches complaining about stereotypes, let me say that there are many very good teachers who also happen to coach. But I still believe that many enter the education field for lots of reasons other than wanting to become a great teacher.

A recent article by Jonathon Zimmerman from the Christian Science Monitor  supports what I was saying in 2008. Jon’s basic thesis? We don’t challenge our pre-service teachers enough.

No matter what we call these classes – or what teaching skills they transmit – they don’t challenge students’ intellects as much as other courses do.

Pre-service education students are not asked to do as much as others:

. . . just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading.

And so they don’t work as hard:

. . . students in education and social work reported studying less, too: 10.6 hours per week, as opposed to 12.4 hours in the social sciences and the humanities. The hardest workers are science and math majors, who study 14.7 hours a week.

The result?

. . . education students show significantly lower gains than these other groups during their undergraduate careers on the College Learning Assessment (CLA), an essay-only test measuring complex reasoning and written expression. As ed schools should be the first to acknowledge, the only way to cultivate these higher-order skills is to practice them. And our students appear to do that less than most other undergraduates.

The problem is that there seems to be multiple people to blame. Colleges allow ed classes to be easy. Ed profs don’t work very hard to make their classes rigorous. Weaker kids know this and take those classes.

. . . ed schools have made it boring, by stripping it of its intellectual edge – and by letting our students slide along.The students know it, too. That’s why weaker ones flock to the subject – and the more able ones stay away. In each of the past four decades, as my colleague Sean Corcoran has shown, a declining fraction of America’s top college students have chosen to become educators.

The solution? Not as easy as it sounds. More rigor. More willingness to push weak pre-service kids out of ed programs. More willingness to push out ed profs without some sort of actual knowledge of what it’s like in the K-12 world. More real mentoring of student teachers. More classroom experiences for pre-service teachers very early in their college years.

My pipe dream?

Make getting a teacher license more like getting a medical license. Make the ed program one where the smart kids fight to get in and we get to pick and choose who moves into K-12 classrooms.

But I’m still curious. What was your guts ed class?

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. jay #

    In my college I was required to major in a relevant content area. I chose history, although some of my peers chose anthropology & economics. We also took education classes, but our degree was in the content area.

    I definitely agree that the work was significantly more difficult in the history classes, AND it prepared me far better to teach like a historian. In addition, I had to write those 10-20-50 page papers that seem to be lacking in “social studies education” degrees.

    It wasn’t easy to get a teaching certificate at my college. You had to juggle what amounted to two majors and fit student teaching in there as well.

    About teachers&coaching – the stereotype exists for a reason. There are social studies teachers who will say it without any shame that they went into teaching so they could coach (and this transcends content areas). Nothing wrong with that. Different paths, but we all made it to the same place. I hope someday I can get a coaching job.

    March 18, 2011
    • glennw #


      My track was similar to yours – got a political science degree and the required ed classes needed to become certified. (But that track wasn’t required – wish more schools did it the way you experienced it.) And I coached myself every year I taught so I’m not saying people shouldn’t teach and coach.

      But I want people to do it in that order. Be a teacher first and a coach second. If someone wants to coach first and clearly has no desire to grow professionally as a classroom educator, keep them out of the classroom. Let’s figure out some sort of degree that preps them for the K-12 coaching field without letting them enter the academic arena.

      I would say that about any teacher – if you’re not committed to doing the best you can in the classroom, don’t become a teacher. And that’s where the teacher prep programs need to step it up and tell kids, “if you’re looking for any easy major, you’re not ready to be a teacher.”

      Thanks for the comment!


      March 18, 2011
  2. JMushing #

    Recently read this article that is a great read for all teachers and education reformers:

    Hechinger Report | An interview with Henna Virkkunen, Finland’s Minister of Education

    Students want to become teachers because “teaching profession is one of the most famous careers in Finland”

    “In Finland, we think that teachers are key for the future and it’s a very important profession—and that’s why all of the young, talented people want to become teachers. All of the teacher-training is run by universities in Finland, and all students do a five-year master’s degree. Because they are studying at the university, teacher education is research-based. Students have a lot of supervised teacher-training during their studies. We have something called “training schools”—normally next to universities—where the student teaches and gets feedback from a trained supervisor.”

    Hope you find the time to read the whole conversation. Reformers like to compare the statistics of student in the US to those in Finland, but they don’t have near the commitment to schools, educators, nor students with their proposed reforms. Here in Michigan we are facing monumental cuts, less teachers, larger class sizes, few resources, etc., etc. – when will “they” get it!

    March 18, 2011
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the link! Looks interesting. I also spent some time in Germany and they have similar sorts of things going on in their teacher prep track, including the Master’s degree.

      It’s been interesting and sad listening and reading to talking heads on the news rip on teachers and the teaching profession lately. There seems to be a different level of respect for teachers in the US than in other places. And I think part of it is stems from our lack of rigor in our pre-service programs.


      March 18, 2011
  3. Don Gifford #

    I’m with you guys, majored in History, monored in Education. I think my teacher training was good, but nothing like the first few years in the classroom. I agree with increasing the rigor of pre-service educational programs, but I think more and more post-secondary education departments are looking into the dispositions that make great teachers. Jim Collins wrote a little pamphlet called “Good to Great and the Social Sectors” where he suggested that school hire teachers who are “productively neurotic” people who are self-disciplined, self-motivated, generally enthusiastic and passionate to the point of annoyance. These people are not motivated by salaries or merit pay, but by the kind of people they are. Those are the people we need leading todays classrooms.

    March 25, 2011
    • glennw #


      These are exactly the kinds of people we need screen for! The problem, of course, is that they are hard to find – especially in ed programs.

      I like the term “productively neurotic”!


      March 25, 2011
  4. Don Gifford #

    Spelling wan’t my major!

    March 25, 2011
  5. Pilar Pedraza #

    I agree. My actual BA is Journalism/Spanish (a double major). I actually had not planned on becoming a teacher. It’s a second career for me. Once I started teaching, I learned sooooo much more in the classroom as a teacher than I did in any of my education classes. In fact, I’ve said many times everything I needed from those classes I could’ve learned in a single day in-service! While I was required to write an eight to ten page paper a week for my classes, it was mickey mouse work for me. (Might have been more difficult for non-writers.)
    When I got certified to teach History/Government as well as Spanish and Journalism I was told by several people in my district I would never teach them unless I became a coach. The stereotype exists for a reason. And it’s alive and kicking in my district!
    I’ve done a lot of traveling around the world, especially in Europe, and have paid close attention to their educational systems and training programs, not to mention their attitude towards teachers in general. Unless and until this country honors its educators instead of denigrating them, nothing is going to change in regards to our students achievement levels.

    March 28, 2011
    • glennw #

      Thanks for the insightful comments! Part of me thinks that the Teach for America people have some of this figured out – cram a ton of teacher prep, etc into a summer, throw teachers into the fire and let them learn as they go.

      But I do believe that we can do a better job of preparing people to be good history teachers before they get to the classroom. The better prepared, the more students benefit.


      March 28, 2011
      • Pilar Pedraza #

        Very true. I had a slight advantage, as I had many teachers in my family and thus had a lot of familiarity with the profession and its associated techniques and issues before entering it. But, I am in great favor of programs like those in many European countries where at least half of the training is in the actual classroom under the supervision of a master teacher.

        March 28, 2011
  6. Rashid #

    I agree 100% Glenn, very insightful. tehe

    May 22, 2011
  7. Rashid #

    I know a lot of coaches in my high school that are only there for the coaching position. My Physics teacher was the varsity football coach for a while until he lost the position due to the poor record of the team. Now, its obvious he doesn’t enjoy his job and is just doing it for the money. Another example, a social studies teacher at my school is the assistant varsity baseball and assistant varsity football coach and out right tells people he cares more about coaching than teaching and admitted to us the first day of class that he wouldn’t have gotten the teaching job if he wasn’t a good coach. I mean, really? Teachers are in the classroom to teach, not to ‘teach’ for 6 hours and then run down to the track… I find that besides the core sports, like football, baseball and basketball, coaches are usually better teachers and care more about their students success. Like in Chemistry, the teacher is the assistant varsity mens volleyball coach. He enjoys coaching a lot but it wasn’t the reason he became a teacher, it was because he likes teaching Chemistry. But maybe its just because I live in Pittsburgh, PA, where during football season the news stations are devoted to covering high school football and people who went to the school 50, 60 years ago come back to watch every game. Anyway, I’m glad someone else sees it like I do.

    May 22, 2011
    • glennw #

      It’s sad. I’ve known, and know, teachers exactly as you describe. We worry about test scores and interventions and NCLB and we ignore poor teachers right in front of us.

      Thanks for the comment!


      May 23, 2011

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