What Should Teachers Be Learning, Anyway? (A GMAT Practice Essay)


Teacher in primary school in northern Laos

Image via Wikipedia

The following appeared as part of an editorial in the Waymarsh city newspaper:

“Last year the parents of first graders in our school district expressed satisfaction with the reading skills their children developed but complained strongly about their children’s math skills. To remedy this serious problem and improve our district’s elementary education, everyone in the teacher-training program at Waymarsh University should be required to take more courses in mathematics.”

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The Waymarsh school district may have a problem with students’ math scores – at least the parents of first graders seem to think so, if this editorial is any indication.  Although the statement’s representativeness of the parents’ opinions as a whole is not clear, let us assume for a moment that the parents of first graders largely did “complain strongly” about their children’s math skills.  This editorial piece still fails to provide a reasoned argument in several key ways.

The argument refers to a comparison between first graders’ reading and math scores, as judged by parents.  But are any of the parents an authority on this matter?  What should a first grader’s math score look like?  How did first graders in other school districts perform?  It is doubtful that the writer of the editorial thought about any of these issues, and works under the assumption that a parent’s satisfaction with their child’s scores should be the key deciding factor.  There are, undoubtedly, school districts where the parents’ opinions do run matters – the parents do pay taxes, after all, and any given PTA might wield a lot of influence with its school board.

Let us move past that assumption into another – that requiring everyone in the teacher-training program at Waymarsh University to take more courses in mathematics would “remedy this serious problem and improve our district’s elementary education.”  There are several flaws in this reasoning.  First, it assumes that all of the teachers in the Waymarsh school district attend the Waymarsh University teacher-training program.  (If that were to be true, one might suggest that therein lies the problem.)  Secondly, it assumes that teaching mathematics to prospective teachers would make them better at teaching mathematics, which is certainly not a given – especially when dealing with children as young as first graders.  Teaching basic math skills is not only driven by more in-depth mathematics knowledge, but also by more knowledge of elementary-level teaching.  Thirdly, the argument assumes that all teachers would benefit from the additional training, and not just elementary school teachers.  Such training would prove wasteful to teachers of subjects other than elementary mathematics, who might benefit from training in other subjects or methodologies much more.

It is certainly true that if the parents are unsatisfied with their childrens’ education that they should have the right to speak up.  This is a crucial issue to the maintenance and improvement of our society, and nobody should argue the contrary.  However if the facts prove the need for additional actions, a more in-depth study should be performed.  Waymarsh University should draw upon the experts to determine whether training is in fact the best solution, as opposed to more classroom experience earlier in the prospective teacher’s education.  If training is warranted, the curriculum might include more elementary mathematics training, or elementary teaching methods in general. 

Obviously, the writer of the editorial is making an impassioned plea on the behalf of the parents of students at Waymarch schools, but the case for additional mathematics requirements of every student in the teacher-training program at Waymarsh University is making too many leaps to be warranted at this time.

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One Response to “What Should Teachers Be Learning, Anyway? (A GMAT Practice Essay)”
  1. Among the best articles I have read in a while. Thanks and sustain the good work.

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