Letter: ‘Useless’ isn’t useless in school

This is in response to Kevin Kelly’s letter appearing in the June 17 Advocate regarding Teach for America and his suggestion that it stand as a model for teacher preparation. I admit I quite understand his viewpoint that teachers should have in-depth content knowledge of their subject, so I decided to do a little research on how ill-prepared teachers are.

Since Kelly taught mechanical engineering at LSU, I did a comparison of my B.S. in secondary education with a concentration in social studies with the requirements of a B.S. in mechanical engineering at LSU today. Interestingly, I found that each requires approximately 60 hours in core content classes. As for my degree in education, only 18 hours are actually attributed to those “useless” education courses Kelly mentioned, but I also have to admit that I now wish there had been more.

When I graduated in 2005, I was not a young 22-year-old but much older with plenty of work experience. It took me only a month of teaching to realize I was ill-prepared to teach the variety of students I encountered, but it was not because of my lack of content knowledge. I could have given up and thrown in the towel and gone back to my previous line of work, or even stuck it out and done a really poor job, but I was determined to find a better way because this was for the children I wanted to help.

So back to school I went to work on my master’s degree — and what I found out astonished me. Yes, there is an art to teaching but there is also a much more important component and that is the science of learning (that information you get in those “useless” education courses). While teaching someone, content is important, it is also much easier than actually facilitating the conditions in which optimal learning can take place for every single student in a classroom.

This is a much more complicated process, particularly when you are working with students who come to you with various levels and abilities and it is required that all of them must show growth. Perhaps picking and choosing who succeeds is acceptable in higher education, but it is not — nor should it be — in the K-12 classroom.

I am sure Kelly was an excellent teacher in his area of expertise at LSU, and I wouldn’t presume to tell him what a mechanical engineer should study. But in the same respect, until he has a degree in the science of learning — education — I suggest he cannot presume to know what is and what is not “useless” in this field of study.

Margaret Ridgeway