Okay . . . I hadn’t heard the term “guts” actually used before. We used the word “cake” as in “easy as cake” and “cakewalk.” We also used “mick” for . . . that’s right, “mickey mouse.”

And, yes, all three terms describe many of the education classes at my school of choice (aka Harvard of the Plains). I especially remember some sort of multimedia class where the most difficult task was mastering the mimeograph machine.

Several years ago I wrote a quick post (apparently while in a grumpy mood) describing my thoughts about how college kids who would make great teachers choose not to become teachers – in other words, kids who should not be in teaching become teachers because it seems easy.

We’ve all heard the stories about how college athletes who want to become coaches go into the education field and don’t worry too much about becoming great teachers as long as they have time to work on game plans. And unfortunately, many of us have seen those coaches in our schools.

Now . . . before I get tons of cards and letters from social studies teachers / coaches complaining about stereotypes, let me say that there are many very good teachers who also happen to coach. But I still believe that many enter the education field for lots of reasons other than wanting to become a great teacher.

A recent article by Jonathon Zimmerman from the Christian Science Monitor  supports what I was saying in 2008. Jon’s basic thesis? We don’t challenge our pre-service teachers enough.

No matter what we call these classes – or what teaching skills they transmit – they don’t challenge students’ intellects as much as other courses do.

Pre-service education students are not asked to do as much as others:

. . . just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading.

And so they don’t work as hard:

. . . students in education and social work reported studying less, too: 10.6 hours per week, as opposed to 12.4 hours in the social sciences and the humanities. The hardest workers are science and math majors, who study 14.7 hours a week.

The result?

. . . education students show significantly lower gains than these other groups during their undergraduate careers on the College Learning Assessment (CLA), an essay-only test measuring complex reasoning and written expression. As ed schools should be the first to acknowledge, the only way to cultivate these higher-order skills is to practice them. And our students appear to do that less than most other undergraduates.

The problem is that there seems to be multiple people to blame. Colleges allow ed classes to be easy. Ed profs don’t work very hard to make their classes rigorous. Weaker kids know this and take those classes.

. . . ed schools have made it boring, by stripping it of its intellectual edge – and by letting our students slide along.The students know it, too. That’s why weaker ones flock to the subject – and the more able ones stay away. In each of the past four decades, as my colleague Sean Corcoran has shown, a declining fraction of America’s top college students have chosen to become educators.

The solution? Not as easy as it sounds. More rigor. More willingness to push weak pre-service kids out of ed programs. More willingness to push out ed profs without some sort of actual knowledge of what it’s like in the K-12 world. More real mentoring of student teachers. More classroom experiences for pre-service teachers very early in their college years.

My pipe dream?

Make getting a teacher license more like getting a medical license. Make the ed program one where the smart kids fight to get in and we get to pick and choose who moves into K-12 classrooms.

But I’m still curious. What was your guts ed class?

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