Occidental College President Ted Mitchell offers another self-serving answer (12-month contracts) to the education crisis (Commentary, July 18). Does Mitchell think that more and better people will go into teaching once they experience the "fun" of summer self-examination? The next time somebody complains about the quality of teaching or teachers, remind him that the law of supply and demand can't be broken with impunity. In private industry, when you can't get enough qualified people to apply for open positions, what's the solution--taking away an unpaid vacation?
Also, who will teach those courses designed to make us better teachers? What assurance do we have that these courses will have value? In my experience, many education courses are facile and boring, not to mention lacking in rigor. Teachers who successfully complete these sorts of courses don't become better teachers, and many good teachers are bored out of the profession by traffic-school-level boredom. As a successful teacher of advanced placement students, with test scores to prove it, I--and many others--would be less likely to stay in teaching if Mitchell's advice is followed.
Mitchell's visionary commentary is the most important statement on how to improve teacher training that I have heard. I, along with colleagues, direct summer teacher-training programs in science of the type Mitchell describes. We require that all teachers fill out a background survey to help us understand where they are coming from.
So many of these teachers who teach science have no degree in science at all. That truly shortchanges our kids and our nation. The only way to correct the problem is to give these folks rigorous summer and year-round training to bring them up to speed. The California Science Project and organizations such as the National Science Foundation and the Eisenhower State Grant Program fund excellent training programs.
The major problem, however, is that the programs are voluntary and reach so few of the teachers who desperately need this training. We need to massively increase funding for these and other programs, make them mandatory for all teachers needing the help and pay them to get it.
Steven Oppenheimer PhD
Director, National Science
Foundation Teacher Training
Program, Cal State Northridge