How Plumbers Can Improve Education.

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Our educational system is broken.  At least that’s what parents and the government believes.Sooner or Later, We All Need a Plumber. (I’m not saying they are right… I’m not saying they are wrong).

Up to this point there has been some disagreement about how to fix it.

I have the solution.

Best of all I’m not going to charge a dime for it.

After all, I’m here for the kids (and summers, but that’s a different blog).

As an added bonus we don’t have to throw money at the problem or add more testing (although I’m still in favor of grade level exit exams, but that’s also a blog for another time).

Here’s my plan.

It’s so simple it’s seems almost too good to be true. 

Did I mention it’s free?

The one thing upon which parents, teachers, administrators, and the government can agree (actually it’s the only thing upon which they can agree)… we all want our students to perform better.

Here’s my plan.

Teachers teach students.

Ipso facto, to get higher performing students, we need better teachers (and administrators).

So how do we get better teachers?


Train them better.

How do we do that?


Train them like plumbers.

Problem solved.

Teachers go to college for 4 years (or 5, possibly 6, sadly 7 in some cases).  They take a laundry list of classes in which there are two primary goals.

The first goal is to have them sit quietly for 3 1/2 years and listen to professors talk about what makes a good teacher.  Then they get to student teach for a few weeks.

The second goal is for colleges and universities to make boatloads of money by holding students hostage for 4 years in their education programs.

This type of training works in some instances, but too often we produce young teachers who aren’t prepared.

You know whose training works?


Here is an example from a plumber training program:  The term of the plumbing apprenticeship consists of five years of not less than 8,000 hours in which a minimum of 500 hours is spent in paid-related classroom instruction and 260 hours of unpaid-related instruction with a minimum 80 percent attendance.

Plumbers not only take classes, but they work with master plumbers who teach them the skills on an actual job site.

They train with plumbers to become plumbers for 8,000 hours.

Think about that.  8,000 hours.

A typical school years is less than 1,400 hours.

And that’s not counting field trips, testing, snow days, lunch, and recess.

Student Teachers “teach” for 12 weeks (?).  At 5 days a week (?) for 7 1/2 hours a day (?).

That’s 450 hours.

Who’s better prepared?  A new teacher or a new plumber?

We need new teachers to spend more time in the classroom learning, tutoring, and getting hands on experiences before we throw them to the wolves. 

And by wolves, I mean students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and school boards.

They would be much better off working under a “Master Teacher” for a good portion of their 4 college years than just learning about “educational theories”.

New teachers should spend years learning their profession, not weeks. 

If we did a better job at preparing new teachers, they would do a better job teaching which would benefit the students.

Problem solved.

Again, no charge.

All of my ideas are free… because they are of no real value.

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27 Responses to “How Plumbers Can Improve Education.”

  1. Christine DiPaulo
    on Feb 27th, 2010
    @ 5:25 pm

    I could not agree more. I always thought it would be a good idea to have teachers do what doctors have to do. Internship, Residency and Fellowship. I was an Instructional Assistant for 8 years before I became a teacher. That shaped me and allowed me to experience many points of view (i.e. students, special education, regular education, parent, my daughter wen to school was in the school district I worked in.) I am a better teacher after working with excellent teaches who inspired me over the course of my “schooling”.
    Great post!

  2. Janet Avery
    on Feb 27th, 2010
    @ 5:42 pm

    What a great post – goes right along with the concept of 10,000 hrs of practice in the book – Outliers -. In my district, we try to do our best to pair our new teachers with a quality mentor. It has been very successful for the most part – but they are still in different classrooms. I can only imagine what a new teacher would learn from a master teacher if they were working side by side for three years!

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Janet Avery, Outliers… great book.

    Not that it needs my endorsement or anything…

  3. Margaret Howard
    on Feb 27th, 2010
    @ 6:24 pm

    I like this. At my school, we’ve been doing “walk-abouts” for the past few years. We pop in on a colleague with a checklist to see if she’s teaching with rigor and relevance. (Like you can always catch that in 5-10 minutes.) As unfair as these walkabouts are, I learn something during each and every one. I’ve seen teachers with great questioning/teaching skills, and teachers who need help in many areas, so I learn some new ways to do things and some things not to do. After our most recent walk-about, I was reminded anew that ours is an isolating profession. There is little opportunity to see great teaching in action. I believe even those colleagues I have who would only be reflective about their practice if wrapped in aluminum foil would learn better instructional techniques if they could but see them in practice.

  4. Teach_J
    on Feb 27th, 2010
    @ 6:26 pm

    I totally agree with this idea. I think that a two year college partnership with a master teacher followed by a two-year residency with the same teacher full time after graduation would prepare teachers so much better than any program I’ve ever seen or heard about.

  5. Olwyn Hughes
    on Feb 27th, 2010
    @ 6:56 pm

    This would be a much better way to prepare teachers for the reality of teaching. I would have the student teacher work with a wide variety of mentor teachers so that they can see many different styles rather than just one mentor teacher. I wish I could have student taught this way!


  6. Alfred Thompson
    on Feb 27th, 2010
    @ 8:28 pm

    What do plumbers get paid? I suspect more than teachers. WOuld we have to now pay teachers more? Not that I’d mind – being married to a teacher and all.

  7. AllanahK
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 12:38 am

    I totally utterly agree.

  8. pamzella
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 12:52 am

    HECK yeah. I especially like that the plumber’s paid work outnumbers the unpaid. Not only is student teaching brief, at the cheapest public schools in CA, prospective teachers pay more than $5700 for that experience. And the master teacher gets nothing, most of the time.

  9. CW
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 7:11 am

    I could not agree more. I chose not to major in education (I majored in English and just took the basic Education classes absolutely required by the state) because the courses were largely terrible. My favorite example: I took a class entitled “Alternative Assessment.” We were assessed with…wait for it….multiple choice tests! I may not have learned much about alternative assessments, but my appreciation of irony certainly improved.

    I learned far more about teaching by working at camps each summer, alongside experienced teachers, than I ever learned in a college classroom. And I also find that our best new teachers are those who found/created similar opportunities for themselves. The ones who just took classes? All theory, lots of confidence, and very little in the way of actual skill. It’s a terrible combination.

  10. Michael Smith
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 9:26 am

    I thought someone would rip me for comparing educators to plumbers… but so far, so good.

  11. Tom
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 11:03 am

    So you’re saying that “teachers” are the problem in education. If they had more training everything would be fixed. Yeah, I am going to have to disagree with you there.

  12. Monika
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 11:27 am

    Having taught for 18 years and now as an administrator for 4 years, I can tell you I was not trained well. I learned more through my 18 years of teaching than I did in my education courses. I am still learning.

  13. Tom54
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 12:29 pm

    I agree with this thought in that it would much better prepare young teachers who are walking into the classroom, especially those who attempt to do this at 22 years old after only 4 years of college and 15 weeks of student teaching. I think the opportunity to experience the classroom setting from as many different angles for as long as possible would be beneficial to those entering the profession. As a person who has had many family members enter the trades (including plumbing) and come out well prepared and great at what they do, I think much of this idea would be beneficial to education. With this system in place it would also allow schools to have helpful paraprofessionals who intend on working towards a career in education. Both of these would prove as an asset, as there are surely enough paraprofessionals out there who struggle with being new in the classroom and are doing it because they are simply “qualified” with 30 or so college hours. While it could be argued that learning on the job is important, it is a fact that the schools do send some very untested teachers into the classroom. This ends up being a trial at the student’s expense. This will also allow the cost of required education for teachers to be reduced. One of the difficulties of entering this profession is trying to cover cost of living or try to support a family on a teacher’s salary with a large amount of student loans. There would also be a trial process in which a person could find if they are truly meant for the classroom rather than finding this out after 4 plus years of school and a negative experience student teaching. I do not know if the exact apprenticeship model would work but I do agree that it would be much better than the sink or swim process that happens with many first year teachers, especially when this is coupled with many of the extracurricular activities that are expected.

    I am a student in Professor Pete Post’s Adult Special Education Course at Trinity Christian College.

  14. Crystal G.
    on Feb 28th, 2010
    @ 6:22 pm

    Thank God I worked as a paraprofessional for a few years while I was in school so I was conscious of the continuous and often overwhelming paper work that so many teachers have to deal with. I saw how teachers spent time during recess and lunch periods modifying lessons to meet the needs of so many children at varied stages of understanding and how challenging that was. I was also able to witness the difficulties that teachers had, having to test students that they knew had not mastered the skills being tested. Also, I heard the complaints about not having enough time during the school day to work individually with each child. I saw how it was often difficult to get the parents of students to come to school for parent teacher conferences and to participate in their child’s school activities. Fortunately for me I was aware of some of the not so fun aspects of teaching. Unfortunately, however, so many 1st year teachers do not get this type of “real” experience. This technique just might work! Or at least individuals who think that they want to be teachers will know early in their education the realities of being one.

    I am a student in Pete Post’s Adult Studies Special Education course at Trinity Christian College.

  15. Diane
    on Mar 1st, 2010
    @ 5:53 am

    Tom54 makes a great point-people would find out sooner rather than later whether or not they truly are suited to the profession.

    I spent 5 years going to grad school. I had to spend ten hours per course in a classroom “observing”. It killed me to have to sit there and do nothing-I wanted to get my hands dirty (so to speak). Sometimes I got a teacher who would allow me to participate in some way, but those were rare occurences.

    How do you get better at anything? By working with skilled practioners. Simple, right? Yeah.

  16. Debbie
    on Mar 1st, 2010
    @ 8:47 am

    Not only would it allow the student teacher to see if this is their true calling, it would allow the school a better opportunity to see if this student teacher is cut out for a career in education. Just because you can do the course work in college doesn’t mean you can apply it. I think most of us have had a teacher who knew their subject, but could not teach it.

  17. Jackie
    on Mar 1st, 2010
    @ 8:47 am

    Could school districts easily absorb the extra cost ? If their teachers are busy with the mentoring of interns and student teachers in placements for 8000 hours, they would certainly need to have work time available to devote to this important educational task. They would need to have the time available to explain what they’re doing and why, reflect on lessons and curriculum, provide feedback on lessons and educational decisions made by the interns, explain the array of options available in any given situation and why they made the choice they did–basically involve the intern at every step and also provide them with extensive background information. That would take a LOT of time and expertise to do with the good quality needed. I don’t think this is the kind of time commitment teachers could make on a regular basis without some sort of reduced load or released time. How would that work for their students (subs? team teaching?)? School districts would need to be prepared to sink a lot of time and money into a plan like this.

  18. Angie
    on Mar 2nd, 2010
    @ 1:11 pm

    How about this to start instead of waiting for teacher preparation programs to change? At the district level, pair a new teacher and a mentor in a “team teaching” situation. The pair get an extra conference (maybe?) but teach a greater # of students per class. With both teachers, you’d meet the teacher-student ratio and get the internship needed for the new teacher. The benefit for the mentor? Extra conference, extra hands, extra help.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Angie, I like it. And it might be easier to change at a local level then to ask colleges to reduce a program that provides them never ending revenue.

  19. Alicia Kessler
    on Mar 2nd, 2010
    @ 8:44 pm

    I have a couple of friends who are nursing instructors for a local RN program. They take their teaching very seriously, because as former nurses in the trenches, they understand what they are teaching is SO very important to their students, and the health of future patients. Given that I don’t venture out of my home area, I appreciate this because they might be working on me someday.

    Professors who are going to train K-12 teachers should have done time, preferable a lot it in the trenches. I’d like to have my money back from SIUC for a couple of courses. Math methods comes to mind. We all sat there in a coma as the instructor babbled on for 50 minutes 3 times a week about the abacus and why east Asian nations understood math better. I didn’t not learn one thing about how to teach math to students. Zip. Nada. Meanwhile, the professors I had for the science stint of my education were passionate and on fire……..about fish and ducks. Let me tell you, when you can get fired up about the mating habits of the wood duck at 8am on Monday morning, well, that’s passion. Ahem.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Alicia Kessler, I love any comment that talks about mating habits of fish and ducks.

    We need more of these.

  20. Krista
    on Mar 3rd, 2010
    @ 10:50 am

    I went through a college prep program that required we do residencies each year in a classroom. Our Phase program had us observing master teachers, then teaching—way before the student teaching experience. You know what happened to that program—it is no longer used–too much $$$–and too much application of skills. Back tothe same ole’ same ole’ of what has always “worked”. Yup–really has worked hasn’t it!!!

  21. Nipsy
    on Mar 11th, 2010
    @ 5:43 pm

    I wasn’t bothered so much by the comparison of teachers to plumbers. It was the revolting comparison of a student’s young mind to the inanimate PVC, copper, or other media with which the tradesperson works. That’s what brought me back nearly two weeks later to comment. It’s been quietly nagging at me as I receive your other posts in my feedreader. I can’t get past the fundamental insult your (all) students intellect, intentional or not.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Nipsy, I tried to email you directly, but it looks like you didn’t use your real name/email address.

    In no way was I meaning to insult students. I wouldn’t work in education or blog if I wasn’t passionate about education, schools, and students.

    Thanks for your comment and hopefully next time you visit you will feel more comfortable sharing you real name (although not required).

    Thanks for visiting the blog.

  22. Plumbing Training
    on Apr 7th, 2010
    @ 7:08 pm

    Good points.The training or classes including instructors or teachers is a big factor in acquiring a certain field of education.Like plumbers,they took time to learn and add practical training to get into real situations after the training.

  23. Kandace
    on Oct 6th, 2010
    @ 7:32 am

    Thanks for the well-timed blog. I’m looking for a plumber.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.