kitchen table math, the sequel: more from teacher burn-out comments

Thursday, January 3, 2008

more from teacher burn-out comments


Retired now, I taught in high school, in university, in medical school; and eventually, directed biotech research. By far and away, my brief career teaching high school biology was the most difficult and the least rewarding. Admittedly, high school students span a much greater range of ability and motivation, but I found students the least of the problem.

I taught in a public high school and in a large, very sophisticated private high school. The latter more nearly resembled university teaching. The public high school hovered on disaster every day. In retrospect, I cannot imagine anyone enjoying a rewarding career at such a place. Those who coped best were, in my observation, the least stimulating teachers and the least committed to student growth.

Unintentionally, we have made our public schools into service institutions for the poor, for the disadvantaged, for the disabled, and for the unruly. In the name of “Égalité”, we have driven into private schools the serious and capable students whose parents can afford it. We have made social development more important than learning. We have made teachers responsible for the financial and career success of our children, while demanding they also instruct in manners and keep order. We have created an educational system that produces students inferior in attainment to those from almost every other developed country, as measured by every method.

Here is the best measure of our failure: When I was a PhD student in the 1960s, foreign students in graduate science departments across the country numbered less than 20-percent. Most of that minority of foreign students remained after graduation, making their skills available to the United States. Today more than 60-percent of science graduate students are foreign students, and a diminishing number remain after graduation. My colleagues still teaching complain they cannot find enough qualified American students.

I should note that when I directed biotech research most of my senior scientists came from England, Poland, Israel, and Germany; my junior scientists were most frequently former high school science teachers who were “burnt out” or who simply could not afford to continue teaching.

We cannot change the disaster of our public schools until we decide the very most important goal of school is education; until we devote our greatest resources to our best students; and, until we reward our best teachers with the same salaries and respect we accord to lawyers, stock brokers, and sales people.

— Posted by Wayne Lanier, PhD

He's right about graduate students.

Ed says that the Physics graduate program at NYU has under 10% enrollment U.S. students.


Anonymous said...

"He's right about graduate students."

It depends on how many of the foreign students are going for PhDs and how many of them are in a masters program. For many foreign students, the best way to get to the U.S. is by applying to a masters program. Then, after graduation, they get a job. U.S. students can just go get a job directly after college.

If many/most of the graduate students are only shooting for a masters, it just means that they want to come live/work in the U.S. and this is the best way for them to do it.

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed's figures are for the Ph.D.