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Old 10-06-2019, 03:37 PM
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Goodbye Mr Cleese: British public school graduates returning to teach sans further qualification


I'm listening to the audiobook version of So...Anyway, the memoir of John Cleese.

In the late 1950s during his last year at Clifton College, he was accepted by Cambridge University, but was told he would have to wait two years due to the glut of students* planning to attend.

To occupy his time during the interval, his headmaster suggested he stay on at Clifton and teach English and history, not even his best subjects. He was assured that, as he would be teaching ten-year-olds he could manage it by merely staying a page or two ahead in the textbook. So he did, and apparently managed to carry it off. (Note: I'm still in this part of the book, so no spoilers please.)

How common was this sort of thing, and why was it allowed? One would think the tuition-paying parents would object to their kids being taught by less than fully qualified masters. Was there an underlying concept that any graduate of such a school should have been well and thoroughly enough educated as to be able to turn right around and become a teacher there?

And does this sort of thing still happen?


*The glut was because of the recent abolition of mandatory military service.

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Old 10-06-2019, 03:44 PM
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It happens in the USA. It's called homeschooling.
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Old 10-06-2019, 03:59 PM
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Be serious, please.

I'm talking about teachers who work at a school and get paid for it.

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Old 10-06-2019, 04:08 PM
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Hmm, Clifton College. Checking says it's students ages are from 2 (!) to 18. So, the higher classes are like high school in the US.

For US colleges there are TAs who might be recent graduates teaching classes. I did this 3 years after I entered. One of my high school classmates was in one class I taught and another had a fellow student from an English class the term before. And the supervision was basically non-existent.

But that's a step up.

For high schools in the US, even student teachers have a couple years under their belt and have a great deal of supervision.

The only exception I've been exposed to are substitute teachers. I know that our district will accept a recent grad into their sub pool. But not for full time work.
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Old 10-06-2019, 04:54 PM
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Tachers-in-training wouldn'be teaching high school during their first year at a university, though, let alone before even entering one.

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Old 10-06-2019, 05:12 PM
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Attorney General Bill Barr's father, Donald Barr, was headmaster of Manhattan's Dalton School, and he hired pedophile socialite Jeffrey Epstein to teach calculus and physics there when Epstein was only 20 years old and without a college degree, having dropped out of New York’s prestigious Cooper Union.
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Old 10-06-2019, 05:15 PM
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Practices of 70 years ago are likely to be different.
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Old 10-06-2019, 05:17 PM
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TAs are this. They are frequently the only effective lecturers in college - the TA "help session" for calculus 3 is much, much more valuable than the big lecture, for instance. And they do the grading of all your tests and homeworks. So de facto, most of the real "teaching" effort is being done by students who may be as little as 1 semester ahead of you.
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Old 10-06-2019, 05:42 PM
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Before the Balfour Act in 1902, most teachers didn't have formal training - it was on-the-job. Cite. Change happens gradually, particularly in tradition-bound institutions like English public (ie private) schools. They were often harking back to the nineteenth century where the process of starting up a school was no more regulated than the process of setting up a tutoring company is today.
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Old 10-06-2019, 05:42 PM
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Tachers-in-training wouldn'be teaching high school during their first year at a university, though, let alone before even entering one.

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My mother taught first grade English in Pakistan (in the 1950s) after completing 10th grade.

It wouldn’t have happened when I was at that same school in the 1970s. By that time Kindergarten teachers needed to have finished 12th grade. By now they need to have a two year degree (old) or a four year degree (new) to teach any grade.

I reckon things have changed in the UK and US as well in the last 50-60 years.
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Old 10-06-2019, 06:31 PM
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I would hope that a Cambridge-bound graduate of Clifton could quite easily teach English grammar and History to a ten year old. That's 5th grade in the US.
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Old 10-06-2019, 07:38 PM
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Bill Cosby(I know, now disgraced) taught briefly before making a success at comedy. I heard him on Larry King talk about how they put him in a high school math class and he didn't know any of the math.

He went home, practiced the next chapter or section, came in and taught it. Went home, did the next part, and came in and taught it.

He managed to keep it up the entire time until he learned the math.
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Old 10-06-2019, 08:06 PM
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I would hope that a Cambridge-bound graduate of Clifton could quite easily teach English grammar and History to a ten year old. That's 5th grade in the US.
There's a great gap between having mastered the basics of English grammar and history, and having mastered the pedagogic skills need to teach them - or anything else - to a class of 10-year olds. The point is that the 18-year old Cleese had no qualifications or training of any kind in teaching.

To answer the OP, this used to be quite common - junior masters in the preparatory schools for English public schools were quite often recently out of the public schools themselves, and marking time before (or sometimes just after) going to university.

The main point of going to a public school was not to acquire a first-rate education; it was to make the right social connections, acquire the right social polish, and imbibe the values and attitudes that would make for success in British society.
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Old 10-06-2019, 08:31 PM
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In the 90's as a computer science grad I was talked into doing the same thing in pretty much.

I was not sure what my next steps were after college, and decided to bum it a "lesser"* school for a semester to get my head straight. I went in to talk to the CS department about enrolling there to see about taking a class or two that I though I could dig into.

I talked to the secretary, then to a prof, and finally to a CS Dean who could have sold used cars in Atlantis, and walked out 3 hours later enrolled as a Teaching assistant in Fortran and Java sections starting in 4 days, both languages I had never learned before. I was literally teaching syntax i only first read a day before at times.
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Old 10-06-2019, 08:37 PM
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The rules for teaching were a good deal looser in the 1950s than they are today. Here in the U.S. my aunt was teaching in private schools despite not getting her college degree until the 1960s. Even by the late 1960s, when my wife got her first bachelor's degree and teaching certificate, it was a life certification (i.e., she never would have had to take any kind of continuing education, or even a test to be recertified.) It wasn't until the 1970s that more rigorous standards became the norm throughout the U.S.
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Old 10-07-2019, 01:01 AM
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Not sure about USA - but in many provinces in Canada - real teachers need to have a teaching certificate, which usually means 2 or 3 years at teacher college after a 3-year degree at least in some other subject. In the good old days, you could get a teacher's certificate from community college in 2 years. Many years ago nothing formal was required.

But... most school boards in Canada also need substitute teachers, who go in and prevent the class from getting out of control while the regular teacher is off sick. Requirements vary, but "graduated high school" is the minimum for some, it seems. I know several university students who came home from first year university and used the remainder of May and June to be substitute teachers. A number of the students I knew in the 80's did this, they would register as substitutes in Toronto, and if necessary skip classes to make some money the odd day the did get called. One girl I remember after second year was specifically requested to be a full-time fill in for someone on maternity leave for 2 months once university exams were done - but she was the star pupil at the high school when she was there. She said the weirdest thing was making kids only a few years younger accept that she was a for-real teacher.

OTOH, years ago the theory was with a teaching degree you could teach anything. Our chem teacher one year was hired at the last minute a month into class when it was discovered the first chem teacher was a total incompetent (and he was actually fired). The new teacher freely admitted she was an English major and was just trying to stay a chapter or two ahead of the class.
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Old 10-07-2019, 01:06 AM
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My mother taught first grade English in Pakistan (in the 1950s) after completing 10th grade.
Back when my mother attended Normal School, entrance requirements were the Basic Baccalaurate (7th grade); Normal itself was 3 grades, they had their teaching degrees by the time those in the Advanced Baccalaurate were in 10th grade; thanks to her late-September birthdate, Mom was in charge of a room full of kids age 5-10 being 15yo herself. Someone who had an Advanced Bac actually had one more year of schooling than a Normal Teacher. Nowadays a teacher who's anything beyond "the person who puts kindergartners to nap" is required to have training at the Grado level, equivalent to an American Bachelor's.
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Old 10-07-2019, 07:48 AM
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Note, everyone, that despite the school in the OP's example being called "College", the job was teaching ten-year-olds.

And my mom's favorite teacher (which would have been at about that same time, but in the US) had started teaching at age 14, because the principal saw early that she was very good at it. She was an outlier even then, but it says something that it was even possible.

Quote:
Quoth UDS:

There's a great gap between having mastered the basics of English grammar and history, and having mastered the pedagogic skills need to teach them - or anything else - to a class of 10-year olds. The point is that the 18-year old Cleese had no qualifications or training of any kind in teaching.
Teachers nowadays must have qualifications, but most of them still have no training of any kind in teaching. There are college courses in the education department that you have to take, but at most colleges, the skills presented in those courses bear no relationship whatsoever to teaching skills.
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Old 10-07-2019, 07:50 AM
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To the OP, there's a couple of factors at play here. Firstly, the past is a different country, where the idea of 'teaching qualifications' was a much looser concept.

The second point is that private schools don't have to follow some Government recognised system, so in theory they could still offer teaching roles to people without recognised qualifications. The state school system, in contrast, is strict in its demands for fully qualified teachers.

However the reality is that with competition for teaching places, and increased academic focus, private schools would be unlikely to take on teachers without nationally recognised qualifications. But they could.
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Old 10-07-2019, 07:57 AM
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Teachers nowadays must have qualifications, but most of them still have no training of any kind in teaching. There are college courses in the education department that you have to take, but at most colleges, the skills presented in those courses bear no relationship whatsoever to teaching skills.
The vast majority of teaching degrees or postgraduate teacher training courses in the UK involve in-school teaching experience (noting that courses and quals vary across UK countries). It would be pretty rare for a NQT for their first post-qualification job to be their first time in a classroom.
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Old 10-07-2019, 08:08 AM
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Oh, yes, the field experience is useful. But the education classes themselves mostly are not. And in some cases, they work to decrease the usefulness of the field experience: Like, you spend so much time making the things they call "lesson plans" (fourteen pages for a one-hour lesson!), that you don't have any time to actually plan the lessons. Or, they'll prepare new teachers to teach high school by sending them for field experience in a second-grade classroom.

And yes, both of those are literal, exact truth from my own personal experience. I gather that the program I was in was worse than most, but such programs do exist.
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Old 10-07-2019, 08:37 AM
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There's a great gap between having mastered the basics of English grammar and history, and having mastered the pedagogic skills need to teach them - or anything else - to a class of 10-year olds. The point is that the 18-year old Cleese had no qualifications or training of any kind in teaching.
Well, IMHO, of the four skills a classroom teacher needs, specific pedagogic training is probably the least important.

Sure, Cleese wasn't trained as a teacher, but at least he'd experienced quite a few years from the other side. And had a fresh memory of that. So, sure, mediocre on formal pedagogy qualifications.

A teacher needs to know the material, and sure Cleese wasn't a PhD in grammar or history, but, being a clearly bright guy, he could probably keep up with a class for 10 year olds.

I really have no idea whether he had the emotional maturity to be professional with a bunch of ten year olds. I think we can only defer to the judgement of the headmaster at the time.

And finally, a classroom teacher needs to be able to stand up in front of a group and, well, perform in public. I kind of think Cleese has demonstrated that he's at least minimally competent at that.
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Old 10-07-2019, 09:38 AM
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The title of this thread reminds me of the scene in Goodbye Mr Chips (1939 version, of course - the only one worth watching) where a very young Mr Chips goes to teach his first class.

The boys are a little out of control.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVXHWqL2pJM
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Old 10-07-2019, 04:56 PM
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However the reality is that with competition for teaching places, and increased academic focus, private schools would be unlikely to take on teachers without nationally recognised qualifications. But they could.
They do. I currently work in a relatively internationally renowned English public school which for obvious reasons I won't name, and a glance down the staff list reveals very many of my colleagues to be lacking any sort of PGCE, BEd, or similar. They've got some lovely gowns and hoods, with their doctorates from all over the world and whatnot, but they aren't actually qualified to teach. The fact that I am would appear to make me somewhat of a rarity here.
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Old 10-07-2019, 07:27 PM
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Well, the curious thing is, the older and more advanced the students, the less (perceived) need for pedagogic training before you're considered qualified to teach them. A primary teachign qualification is a full bachelor's degree. To teach in secondary school, typically a degree in any subject plus maybe a one-year Dip Ed or similar. To teach at third level, no pedagogic qualifications required at all.

Cleese was teaching at primary level where, the consensus seems to be, mastery of the subject-matter is relatively less important, and possession of education skills and qualifications more so. But he had none.
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Old 10-07-2019, 07:30 PM
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He had no educational qualifications. As Quercus points out, he probably did have educational skills.
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Old 10-07-2019, 10:38 PM
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He had no educational qualifications. As Quercus points out, he probably did have educational skills.
I dunno. While he has subsequently demonstrated the ability to "stand up in front of a group and, well, perform in public", at the time of the appointment he may not have demonstrated it and, indeed, may not have had it - it's an acquired skill. As Quercus points out, we do not know whether he had the appropriate emotional maturity for the role. All we're really left with is that he probably knew as much English grammar and history as was likely to be covered in a classroom for 10-year olds, and I can't really count that as an "educational skill".

My point isn't really about Cleese, though, but about the general practice at that time and in that environment of employing school-leavers as schoolmasters. It underlines the fact that these schools were not really about delivering a high-quality education.
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Old 10-07-2019, 11:53 PM
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In the 80s, when home computers were still new, we had special classes that taught us about them. The teachers did not know diddly, but we kids knew a fair chunk. It was clear the teachers were reading up on it days before giving the lessons.

They also didn't know where computers would take us in the future (almost nobody could predict that really) so the stuff they did end up teaching was almost entirely impractical knowledge that I promptly forgot, and was never required in any future interaction with computers I had since.
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Old 10-08-2019, 03:27 AM
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However the reality is that with competition for teaching places, and increased academic focus, private schools would be unlikely to take on teachers without nationally recognised qualifications. But they could.
But back in the 1950's (when I was a ten-year-old) there was a shortage of teachers because so many had not returned from WW2. Note that the school was boys only and that all the teachers were men.

Clifton, as "one of the original 26 English public schools" was probably much less concerned that "tuition-paying parents would object to their kids being taught by less than fully qualified masters" than they were about finding enough teachers at a time when pupil numbers were booming.
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Old 10-08-2019, 04:04 AM
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They do. I currently work in a relatively internationally renowned English public school which for obvious reasons I won't name, and a glance down the staff list reveals very many of my colleagues to be lacking any sort of PGCE, BEd, or similar. They've got some lovely gowns and hoods, with their doctorates from all over the world and whatnot, but they aren't actually qualified to teach. The fact that I am would appear to make me somewhat of a rarity here.
A doctorate qualifies to teach.
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Old 10-08-2019, 01:35 PM
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A doctorate qualifies to teach.
I meant that they have no specific qualification or training in teaching. They don't have Qualified Teacher Status (that's an actual thing, I'm not being weird with capital letters). I was responding to an assertion that public schools would be unlikely to have teaching staff without teaching qualifications, because I actually knew the answer for a change. It doesn't happen much on this board.

Not all of them have doctorates anyway, not that I mentioned that. I was hyperbolising the level of prettiness of their gowns for (clearly not comic) effect. Off the top of my head, of a staff of maybe 70 teachers, I can think of five with PhDs. Some of them have nothing at all, not even a bachelor's degree.
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Old 10-08-2019, 01:35 PM
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A doctorate qualifies to teach.
No, a doctorate qualifies you to do research, but not to teach. That is a distinction which is still maintained on a formal level in some jurisdictions, which, in their tertiary education systems, provide for a level of academic qualification independently of (and usually after) the PhD, to serve as a qualification to teach (whereas the PhD formalises your research skills). This qualification is often called habilitation, or aggregation in some other countries. But I understand that even in countries which do not provide for a formal habilitation-level academic qualification, the post-doc years still serve a very similar function: Preparing a candidate who has, through their PhD, already demonstrated their research ability, for teaching independently, rather than under the supervision of another person to whom they serve as teaching assistant.
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Old 10-08-2019, 03:54 PM
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Really, the only evidence we have for Cleese's teaching skills at the time is that a principal (whose job it is to evaluate such skills) thought that they were sufficient to offer him a job.
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Old 10-08-2019, 04:23 PM
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But back in the 1950's (when I was a ten-year-old) there was a shortage of teachers because so many had not returned from WW2. Note that the school was boys only and that all the teachers were men.
Maybe this goes some way toward explaining why -- at the third-rate-or-worse English "public school", all-male (all teachers were of "mature years", none in their teens) which I attended at approx. the same time -- I found a certain amount of cause for suspecting that the school recruited at least some of their teaching staff, from the local lunatic asylum...
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Old 10-09-2019, 02:26 AM
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Really, the only evidence we have for Cleese's teaching skills at the time is that a principal (whose job it is to evaluate such skills) thought that they were sufficient to offer him a job.

We have the evidence of John Cleese's own account in his autobiography. Reliable or not, it does give some insight into the school and his time teaching there. He spends more of the book than you might think talking about his years at school, and his time teaching.

- Note that he taught at St. Peter's prep school, not at Clifton. This is a mistake by the OP.

Cleese sums up his experience:

Quote:
WHEN I look back at my two years teaching at St. Peter’s, the phrase “halcyon days” pops into my mind and the Oxford English Dictionary tells me it refers to “a past time regarded as idyllically happy and peaceful.”

Why was it so happy? Well, for a start, it was so free of stress. There were no public appearances, very few deadlines of any importance, a contented and relaxed atmosphere, congenial colleagues, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and… I really enjoyed teaching.

Of course, it was in ideal circumstances. The classes were small, the ten-year-olds well mannered and cheerful and respectful and unarmed, and by and large, they wanted to learn. Discipline was no problem, once you had gained the ascendency, provided only that you were “fair.” The boys were very keen on “fairness.” I won a lot of brownie points once when I wrote the non-word “wooly” on the blackboard. They remonstrated with me and pointed out that when they misspelled a word, they had to write it out several times. So I took the chalk and wrote “woolly” one hundred times, all over the board. They approved. Honour was satisfied, and I never spelled “woolly” wrong again. And, maybe, it gave me an idea for Life of Brian.

Best of all, I discovered when I walked out of a class at the end of a lesson, leaving behind some ten-year-olds who could now tell the difference between an adjectival and adverbial phrase (a distinction that had been beyond them forty minutes earlier), that I experienced an inexplicable satisfaction. Partly perhaps because I could now tell the difference, too. My job, after all, allowed me to fill in some of the many gaps in my education left by the Clifton science curriculum.

John Cleese is certainly not stupid. He graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in law, and was offered a job by a top firm of solicitors before he decided to go into show business rather than law.

Even while he was a student at Cambridge, St. Peter's asked him to come back and teach again for six weeks, to fill in for another teacher who had been fired. The circumstances in which the school hired that teacher may shed some light on the school's standards: 

Quote:
I liked Mr. Tolson [the headmaster] so much—he was such a decent man—that I tried to defend him. “But, sir,” I said, “you said he [the teacher fired] had excellent qualifications.”

Mr. Tolson looked at me. “I never bothered to check them, John. You see, when he came for his interview he was wearing an MCC tie.”

I nearly laughed out loud, but then I felt sad for him: that his deference to a much-hallowed institution—the home of English cricket—had let him down so badly. He was devastated. The rest of the term, though, passed off pleasantly, and a few weeks later I left St. Peter’s for the third and last time.
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Old 10-09-2019, 08:53 AM
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Note to self: The next time I go in for an interview, find out what the interviewer's favorite sports team is, and wear the appropriate tie.
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Old 10-09-2019, 09:09 AM
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Note to self: The next time I go in for an interview, find out what the interviewer's favorite sports team is, and wear the appropriate tie.
I appreciate the main point of this post is to make a joke, and that's fine, but just in case a small misunderstanding lies behind it - the MCC isn't really a 'sports team' in the modern sense, although it stands for "Marylebone Cricket Club". Unlike most other cricket clubs, it doesn't play in regular competitions - its role is more ceremonial, in that it owns Lord's cricket ground, the home of cricket.

In the Cleese story, it wasn't that Mr Tolson was a fan of the MCC cricket team, it was the fact that being a member of the MCC (and thus, having the tie) indicated one moved in the highest social circles and therefore no-one would think to question the honour or word of an MCC member. Except in this case, the sacked teacher had apparently taken advantage of this fact to fraudulently obtain employment (I assume). It's very indicative of British social norms of the time, which to some extent still persist today, in various forms. We're gradually getting better (or at least perhaps we were, but let's not make this political).
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Old 10-09-2019, 12:26 PM
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I forgot this one. About 20 years ago our district was so short of Math and Science teachers they'd let anyone with a degree, no education training, to teach. Not sure if that is still applicable.

While not the same as the Cleese situation, it does indicate "flexibility" in regards to having teaching credentials.

(Note that this is not a backwoods sort of district. Our high school is considered one of the best in the state.)
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Old 10-09-2019, 12:29 PM
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OK, thanks, that adds relevant context that I wasn't aware of (and, in fact, that I suspect very few Americans would be aware of).
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Old 10-09-2019, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
I forgot this one. About 20 years ago our district was so short of Math and Science teachers they'd let anyone with a degree, no education training, to teach. Not sure if that is still applicable.
Something like that happened to one of my brothers 40 years ago. The university invited him to teach after graduating with a math-related degree, don't recall exactly what.

Last edited by Skywatcher; 10-09-2019 at 12:40 PM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 01:01 PM
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I knew some fellow who graduated as an engineer. He'd worked summers at the local small town main employer, and in the process had pissed off some boss there so could not get hired when he graduated. The employer had seconded one of their technicians to teach some practical industrial course at the local high school... until the teachers' union discovered the guy had never graduated high school. At that point this brand new engineer got the chance to teach. Then the teacher's union got involved again, and he was allowed to continue on the condition he get a Community College teaching certificate. He did this over the summers in a remote big city - and being the "I don't care" type he was, he stayed at a skid row hotel while taking the course, pointing out how much cheaper it was than any other temporary accommodation. And going forward, as a teacher with a BSc degree, he pointedly told the guys he would have been working with that teaching paid more than their engineering jobs at the plant.

This would have been over 35 years ago. In the last few decades, the school board won't look at anyone without a bachelor degree in education for a permanent teaching position, and that goes for almost anywhere across Canada.

I recall reading someone's reminiscences about growing up in Quebec in the early 1900's, who mentioned that some teachers didn't know much but were hired anyway. His favourite was some guy fresh off the boat from Paris - supposedly that fact appealed to the local school board but the bonus was the guy knew no English, so they skipped the English lessons.
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Old 10-09-2019, 03:27 PM
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And going forward, as a teacher with a BSc degree, he pointedly told the guys he would have been working with that teaching paid more than their engineering jobs at the plant.
It's worth noting that happened in Canada, right? Beginning public school teachers in the U.S. have never bragged about their salaries.
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