On Teaching

Background  In September I was laid off from my overpaid analyst job (OAJ). No need to feel sorry, I was bored to death, have since deliberately not looked for similar jobs and even turned down a more technical job because reasons. Anyway, what I decided to do was to be a substitute teacher. The way this works in Sweden is you have to take a bunch of on call assignments at random places before you get longer contracts so that’s what I did. I am now in a longer contract but before that I had been to 16 different schools scattered all about, including one week teaching a class from world famous no-go suburbs Rinkeby-Tensta, so I’ll share some general musings about this.

Recommendation Substitute teaching is a nice thing to do if you don’t really have clear plans on what to do next. Compared to (as a randomly picked example) sitting on your ass at McDonalds it has several advantages:

  • You are doing something really useful
  • You get paid. Not fabulously but still
  • It looks reasonably ok on a CV
  • You get to see lots of places around where you live that you probably would not have visited otherwise.

School dicipline A lot of schools have discipline problems. On average of course schols in socioeconomically weak areas have more problems than others, but it is surprisingly random. A class in a posh area can be troublesome and a class in a poor area can be well behaved. Curiously this can even vary a lot within the same school. I have developed a little theory about this. What really matters is number of trouble students (TS). These will be more common in poor areas (possible reasons, ADHD, alcoholic parents, parents who just don’t manage, frequent teacher changes, whatever) but can exist everywhere. If you have zero TS everything is smooth, one is still ok since the others will discipline him/her, two is starting to be a problem and four or more means chaos. In a class with 28 students and P(TS,poor area)=8%, P(TS,rich area)=4% you get:

  • P(0,1 TS, rich area)=quiet class=69%
  • P(0,1 TS, poor area)=quiet class=33%
  • P(>3 TS rich area)=chaos=2%
  • P(>3 TS poor area)=chaos=18%
  • P(2,3 TS, rich area)=intermediate=28%
  • P(2,3 TS, poor area)=intermediate=49%

I can think of several solutions to this. One is that since teachers in tougher areas are often very very tired (and thus perform less well and are sick more often meaning more substitutes meaning the problems get worse) the amount of money per student should be higher in trouble areas so teachers could get 80% positions with the same pay. Another would be to have more special need schools to where you ship off trouble students.

Charter schools There is a lot of debate in Sweden on charter (privately run, public funded) schools vs public schools. There are obviously many aspects to this, I personally think they are bad mainly because they have a negative effect on the entire school system with the student as customer idea. Judging from my, limited, personal experience there are obviously passionate and good teachers working in both types of schools. In areas with a lot of academic parents both types of schools work fine, but in trouble areas the charter schools are worse.

Kid ages 16-19 year olds (and kids in university) are a lot easier to teach than 11-15 year olds. I think there’s two reasons for this:

  • The percentage of restless kids drops as they grow older.
  • School is only compulsory until 15/16 in Sweden. Therefore some of the most troubled kids will be gone in later years.

The latter point is an (I think global) issue. There are some kids around 13-15 who are clearly deeply unhappy about being in school. To solve this either society should try to create jobs for younger kids and makes compulsory school shorter, or you try and create a school environment also for these kids, probably with a larger element of practical subjects.

An effect of this is that it is hardest to recruit teachers for 13-15 year olds. Here the solution is obvious, it has to be reflected in the salary. Ideally salaries should be: Teachers for 11-15y olds > teachers for 6-10 year olds > teachers for 16-19 year olds > university professors.

Now what I have signed up for one year of teaching 16-19 year olds. Still not sure I will be doing ten years of this but so far it beats my previous job. Salary a bit lower but Swedish teacher salaries are actually quite ok. In principle I should do a 1.5 year teacher pedagogical training if I wanted to continue as a teacher, but the teacher shortage in Sweden is such that schools really won’t be able to pick only certified teachers.

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