Recent headlines around the state of Florida gave notice that 920 teachers, otherwise effective in their jobs and receiving rave reviews, have lost their jobs because they could not pass Florida’s General Knowledge test, one of three an educator must undergo to receive a professional teaching certificate from the state.
Social media lit up with condemnations of the test. Many persons lamented how tough it was and questioned why some portions of the test are necessary. After all, they reasoned, why would a P.E. teacher or an art teacher have to demonstrate knowledge of how to write an essay? Or how to solve a problem involving similar triangles?
(These two areas, writing and math, are the sections of the test that are the most challenging for teachers to pass.)
While I will not defend the current version of test, administered by everyone’s favorite whipping post, Pearson Education, Inc., there is something to be said to require teachers to have “general knowledge” in order to be certificated.
- Students often ask a teacher questions that do not fall into the area of the teacher’s expertise.
- Teachers of all content areas have to read student explanations and know basic rules of spelling, grammar, and writing to help students clarify what they are saying.
- Teachers need a basic knowledge of all content areas in order to help students make cross-curricular connections and to understand why content is important and meaningful. (For example, it is important as a Geometry teacher for me to be able to connect triangles to bridges and other construction to show why studying their properties is important. Shapes and how they are used is crucial to understanding and creating art. Agility in solving algebraic equations is important in solving chemical equations to determine the result of combining two or more substances. )
- Teachers communicate with parents and others. It is embarrassing and would lead to a loss of confidence in a school if the teachers wrote in ways that were filled with errors and failed to convey meaning.
- If teachers are unable to answer basic questions or talk about anything that a reasonable person would expect an educational practitioner to know, again it would lead to a loss of confidence in schools.
- To restate the above point, a well-educated person, which all teachers should be, is in possession of a basic set of knowledge that covers academic areas, the arts and humanities, etc.
Because teachers need to possess a set of general knowledge, it is important for the state to be sure teachers do possess a set of general knowledge before certificating them for the classroom.
Two questions remain: (1) What is that set of general knowledge and should it be the same for every teacher? In other words, does an elementary teacher need to possess the same set of general knowledge as a secondary teacher?
(2) What are appropriate ways for the state to confirm that a teacher possesses the necessary general knowledge for the classroom?
I am reaching the usual 500 word limit for the typical blog post. I will break here and take up these questions in the next post.
Postscript: Because I am a secondary teacher and am not a practitioner of elementary education, it may appear that my reasons for requiring a set of “general knowledge” is slanted to the secondary level. I invite elementary teachers to add or explain why they also benefit from having general knowledge in their work with the younger children.