Math or English?
I’ve started alternative teacher certification this spring, and in Texas (I suspect this is true most places, as well) high school math teachers are in high demand. I’ve always liked math, and I don’t want to risk not getting a teaching job this fall after all of the work this will take, so I’m signed up to take the subject test to be “highly qualified” to teach math for grades 8-12.
This test is hard.
I never had trouble with math, and I did well on the SAT (a decade ago) and the GRE (a year ago). But this test is likely to include upper level trig and differential calculus. This is not my, as they say, “forte” – not anymore. At ACU only the science and math majors were allowed to take legitimate math classes, so I was removed from the calculus class I’d registered for and put in a class that might as well have been taught from an Algebra for Dummies book. So it’s been more than ten years since I took calculus, which makes me a bit rusty.
I’ve been working through a college-level pre-calculus book, and the calculus equations aren’t intimidating anymore, but the task is still daunting. And then, once I’ve taken (and passed, I hope) the test, I’ll be teaching this math to others.
Granted, the concepts will flow more easily after a few months of work, and I’ll probably start out teaching algebra and geometry, which are not at all complex. I can even see myself studying (applied) math at the master’s level and enjoying it.
But there’s something about teaching English that keeps pulling at my intellectual heartstrings. That something is the readings I’ve done over the past few years from E.D. Hirsch, Neil Postman, Alfred North Whitehead (a math teacher, incidentally), and Stanley Fish. Language is the foundation for all of our thought and learning. The more we command our language, the more we command our thought; as we become clearer thinkers, we become better communicators; and as we become better communicators, we – and everyone around us – become better learners.
That’s a powerful idea, one that far outstrips the (admittedly high) ideal of exposing students to the best thinking and writing of the Western Tradition. It’s more compelling than the image of quality speaking and writing as a necessity to economic or social advancement. And it has more potential to raise achievement at all levels and in any subject where verbal communication is necessary (that would be all of them).
And on top of all that, I would get to teach Beowulf, and have students do artistic renderings of Grendel’s dismemberment. That idea just makes me smile.