It’s important for teachers to have content knowledge before they try to teach. Peter Greene – Curmudgucation – wrote,
Yes, teaching is both a skill and an art and to do a good job, you have to know the skill and the art of teaching. But just as you can’t have waves without water or air, you cannot have “teaching skills” without content knowledge– and all the teaching skills in the world will not make up for lacking knowledge. You cannot make an awesome lesson about adding two plus two if you do not know that the result is four. You cannot lead your students through an illuminating and inspiring study of Hamlet if you have never read the play yourself.
This is true, absolutely.
It’s also true for teachers of young children. Early childhood educators and elementary teachers need to understand the reading, math, social studies, and science they teach, just as much as a physics teacher needs to understand physics. Curmudgucation agrees…
Content knowledge is the foundation of everything else. You cannot be an expert at teaching without being an expert at subject matter. Yes, even teachers of the littles, who in particular need the security of knowing they are in the hands of a grownup who Knows Things.
However, what is often misunderstood by non-educators who think they know all about teaching (I’m looking at you, “reformers”) is that content knowledge is only one part of the teaching skill set.
Elementary teachers – and most educated people in general – are already experts in elementary school content. The average college graduate, for example, can already read, do basic arithmetic, and is familiar with basic science and history. This is the likely reason that non-educators think teaching elementary school is “easy.” As one parent said to me when I was explaining why his son was struggling in first grade, “Just tell him. Just tell him what he needs to know.”
Indeed, many people think that you “just tell” children information and they learn it. They don’t understand that learning is more than information. They don’t understand that teaching is more than simply teaching content. Elementary students need more than someone who “tells” them stuff.
In the early 1980s I had been teaching for about 5 years…and had started on my masters degree. I was discussing this with a group of people and someone asked, “When you get your masters, will you be able to teach high school then?” I tried to explain that teaching elementary school was more than just telling kids stuff. The misunderstanding was, and still is, pervasive.
This ignorance about learning has led to things like REPA III (Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability) in Indiana which allows people with no education training to start teaching content areas in high school. If you have a degree in biology (and a B average), for example, you can teach biology. According to REPA III, there is no education degree required…no need for pedagogical training…no need to learn about classroom management, child development, teaching methods or student discipline. Those are things you can apparently pick up while you’re teaching.
But that’s wrong. Teachers need training before they can take on the sole responsibility of a classroom. That’s why legitimate educator training programs include a significant amount of time in classrooms as well as a full semester (or more) of student teaching.
Of course, content knowledge is important, but it’s only part of the teaching story…
One of the comments to Expertise contained an excellent list of what knowledge is necessary to teach…
NY Teacher June 6, 2017 at 7:39 AM
…Might I add, the importance of knowledge goes beyond subject area content:
Knowledge of pedagogy and methodologies
knowledge of child and adolescent psychology
knowledge of mob psychology (Ha!)
knowledge of cognitive learning theory and brain development (and damage)
knowledge of local community and families
knowledge of school community and happenings,
knowledge of your students – as people
knowledge of your limitations
knowledge of classroom management techniques and policies
And that’s just the knowledge side of of being a good teacher.
Work ethic, professionalism, judgement, personality and many more come into play. Maybe the clueless tweeter and all the other know-nothing reformers that came very late to this 150 year old party will begin to understand just how complex and nuanced the skill set required to a “good” teacher. It’s no wonder they don’t grow on trees.
A child is more than a test score. A teacher is more than a purveyor of information.