Are Good Teachers Always Good, No Matter Where They Go?
The more we fixate on the "good teacher," the less we seem to concern ourselves with good teaching.
That's the thought that came to me as I read about new plans in Cincinnati to get top teachers in struggling schools. I don't know enough about the program to judge it. It does address a critical problem.
But the story also drove home how seldom we hear about the conditions that foster good teaching. Most news stories on ed reform leave the impression that a good teacher is a good teacher is a good teacher, no matter where he teaches, no matter what challenges he faces, no matter how toxic the climate in his school is. Good teachers, it seems, are widgets to be deployed to all manner of schools, where they'll climb every mountain and ford every stream.
In most of our policy discussions, we tend to treat teachers like a currency that carries the same value no matter where we spend it. (Let's find the five dollar teachers and spend them in the neediest schools, which too often have to make do with the one dollar variety). Perhaps that's what happens when the language of economics dominates the debate on school reform.
Don't get me wrong. I strongly support efforts to coax teachers who have done well in their own schools into struggling schools that could use all the help they can get. At LFA, we've documented the fact that children from low-income families are much less likely than their peers to have teachers with a major in the subject they teach, full certification, and experience as teachers. This is a grave problem, and leaders in Cincinnati are trying to address it.
But I worry that, as we focus on deploying teachers to schools, it's all too easy for us to ignore the other factors that affect how teachers teach. Do they have a strong curriculum? A supportive leader? An orderly climate in their schools? All the tools they need to teach students who are still learning English? Time to collaborate with their peers? Staff development? These kinds of questions seldom get raised in all the current talk of teacher effectiveness.
I also worry that policy makers are paying scant attention to the special skills that might make teachers as effective in, say, a tough urban school as they would be in a wealthy suburban school.
We'll be in real trouble as long as the job description of a "good teacher" describes a woman or man for all seasons: Create your own curriculum from whole cloth, teach equally well in tony suburban and gritty urban schools, enforce order in the most chaotic classrooms, offer on-the-spot health care or social work as needed, and work well in complete isolation from your peers.
Great teachers alone can't save us. But great teaching can.
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The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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