“Mr. D “ (aka Mr. Gerry Duncan) may look like just another zany caricature of a real life teacher. http://www.facebook.com/CBCMrD Watching the popular CBC-TV sitcom, it’s hilarious to see him struggling to keep one page ahead of the students in the textbook and relying on tricks to bluff his way through another day. Yet that under-qualified and , at times bumbling, teacher depicted in the show is more common than publicly acknowledged in Canada’s junior and senior high schools.
The CBC-TV sitcom, Mr. D, starring actor Gerry Dee and filmed last summer at Halifax’s Citadel High School, is marketed as a comedic take on a rather dopey, totally ‘uncool’ junior high school Social Studies teacher. http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/49955-gerry-dee-turns-teaching-antics-sitcom It’s loosely based upon the actor’s ten years of teaching, mostly gym class, at Toronto’s De La Salle College, and that gives the show an unmistakable ring of authenticity. After attracting 1.23 million viewers in its first week, it drew audiences of 630,000 or so on a regular basis in its first season.
Interviewed in January 2012 on the Late Night with George Stromboulopoulis, Gerry Dee let the cat out-of-the bag. http://www.cbc.ca/strombo/videos.html?id=2184159076 He was, in fact, quite a bluffer as a teacher, and very much like the character he plays. When asked how common that was in today’s schools, he replied “There’s a lot of truth to it, unfortunately.”
There are far more “Mr. Ds” inhabiting junior and senior high than is ever publicly in Canadian and American schools. Virtually everyone knows a “Mr. D” and many have experienced an excruciatingly long year as a captive audience for such teachers.
Far too many teachers are out of their depth teaching in the higher grades. The problem of “out-of-field” teaching is a long-standing and seemingly chronic one. Back in September 2003, an American research study, produced by the University of Pennsylvania’s Richard M. Ingersoll identified “the failure” to staff classrooms with “qualified teachers” as “one of the most important problems in American education.” That study accurately forecast that the problem of underqualified teachers in Grades 7-17 core subjects would constitute a major obstacle to achieving No Child Left Behind student performance goals. http://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/LimitsPolicy-RI-09-2003.pdf
Teachers in Canada are, for the most part, far better educated and prepared than is the case in the United States. In Canada’s provincial school systems, the whole issue takes on a different dimension and likely stems from different sources. In the case of Nova Scotia, where Mr. D is actually filmed the problem was flagged over a decade ago. Before 2004-05, an alarmingly high number of Nova Scotia teachers were “teaching out of field.” Since then, the misalignment between subject specialty and teaching assignments generated much angst in the Teacher Certification Branch, but little in the way of sustained corrective action. http://www.ednet.ns.ca/pdfdocs/reports/AuditofTeachingAssignments_en.pdf
Mr. Gerry Duncan is not unusual at all when it comes to his subject background and teaching credentials. In the Halifax Regional School Board, some 57% of the Junior High Math courses in October 2007 ( i.e., the most recent data) were taught by teachers without a related background, and the comparable figures were 42% for English, and 39% for Science. It’s far worse in a few other Nova Scotia school boards and most acute in rural school districts.
In Mr. D’s fictional “Xavier Academy,” art does imitate real life. http://www.cbc.ca/mrd/#visit-the=xavier-gazette&to-read=issue-101 Only 6% of junior high Social Studies courses in Nova Scotia are actually taught by “Mr. Ds” with little or no background in their teaching subject, but many secondary school History courses are assigned to non-specialists. As in the sitcom, Physical Education was and still is one of the few subjects actually taught by subject specialists.
The problem is not one that extends down into the early grades, except perhaps in the case of Mathematics and French where it is widespread. It is caused, in large part, by local hiring policies and practices which favour teacher pedagogy over subject mastery – and tend to devalue educators committed to teaching sound subject matter. http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/index.php/blog/read/out-of-field-teaching-assignments/
The CBC-TV show “Mr D” somewhat accidentally rips the lid off a long concealed issue – the quality of teaching in junior and senior high schools. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ_T6J_ZcQw&feature=related That may explain why the Nova Scotia government’s Kids & Learning First reform agenda contains a commitment to “improve the match between what teachers are asked to teach and their training, background, or experience” and “ ensure that training leading to teacher certification upgrades is based on the needs of the classroom.” . http://novascotia.ca/kidsandlearning/pub/KL-en.pdf
A rather off-beat CBC-TV sitcom may be guilty of exaggerating the extent of the problem, but it may also shine a little public light on a well-kept secret and help nudge education authorities further in the direction of corrective action.
Do you know any “Mr. D’s” faking their mastery of subject content in our schools? Do School Systems vary in the extent of out-of-field teaching? Why is it such a widespread and chronic problem? And what can be done to turn the situation around in our junior and senior high classrooms?