Teachers need to be competent in their subject area. Anyone teaching a particular subject should have a serviceable knowledge of said subject.
This shouldn’t be a controversial idea, but unfortunately, it has become a sort of debate in education circles. This is mainly due to the way we assess whether or not a teacher knows their content. We mainly use assessments like the Praxis or other certification exams to assess content knowledge. As of late, teachers have been failing these exams at an alarming rate. This has predictably led to frustration and even complaints of racial bias in the testing process itself.
As a black male teacher, I am well aware that there is no shortage of bias in schools. Double standards and extra hoops for minorities are ubiquitous in almost all facets of life and education is no exception. With that being said, we should be passing these tests.
I know that some people don’t think it’s fair to boil a person’s ability down to their capacity to score well on a test, but those same people will more than likely give their students a test to see if they mastered the content. We can’t ask them to do something we can’t even do.
As far as the subject matter in the test goes, if you are going to make a career out of teaching students math, you should know math. And you would be hard-pressed to generate a decent argument about the racial bias of the “order of operations” or long-division. The tests also aren’t that hard. I took mine the first time, passed it the first time and after teaching a few years, I found it to be a pretty accurate representation of what I needed to know.
What is likely happening is the continuation of the achievement gap. Many minority teachers are struggling with content on their teaching exams because they never learned it to begin with. Just like the kids many of them aspire to serve, some of these teachers attended schools with sub-par teachers, lesser resources, and other constant barriers to learning…which is why we need to make extra sure they know their content so that the students today aren’t subject to the same pitfalls.
We can’t go back in time and make sure every minority teaching candidate is in the right school to learn information for a Praxis test in the future, but we can do a better job of preparing them during their teacher prep program. Teaching colleges need to encourage students to specialize in particular content and place them in courses that help with that area. I teach history and majored in political science and journalism. Both of those lend themselves to teaching US history and current events well. It would be a lot to ask someone who hasn’t taken a history course since 11th grade to pass the social studies Praxis.
Any teacher, even one struggling to pass the certification test, is better than a long-term sub, and schools should remember that. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t hold ourselves accountable to know our content areas.