‘Great’ teacher myth doesn’t help kids

The “great teacher” myth doesn’t help students writes Ellie Herman, who blogs at Gatsby In L.A.. She quotes a conversation with Roxanna Elden, author of  See Me After Class.

“We’re in danger of trying to institutionalize one or two things that made one or two teachers great and then trying to force other teachers to do those things,” says Elden. There isn’t just one way to be an excellent teacher.

A great teacher, says Elden,  “is adequate at everything, good at the things that affect their instruction, great at things that only they can be great at.”

More specifically:

Adequate at doing required paperwork, attending professional development and not making enemies among the staff

Good at classroom management, grading, getting students feedback for their work and planning lessons

Great at some type of spark that belongs to you, your special unique gift, whether it’s your passion for your subject, your innovative lessons, your inspirational leadership, your sense of humor, your ability to listen, your meticulous attention to detail.  Not all of these.  One or two of these.

Finally, teachers need “sustainable working conditions,” says Elden.

“Make sure we have copiers that work.  Make sure our internet connection doesn’t crash.  Have a plan for the kid who’s acting out and out of control.  If you don’t do those things, if you focus your effort over and over on reminding me that nothing should get in my way and there are no excuses…that’s not helping students.

“Teacher working conditions are the same thing as student learning conditions,” says Elden.

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  1. I noticed that “mastery of subject-area(s) content” was not included on her list of teacher attributes; as if one could teach content which one doesn’t know well. She also doesn’t mention that it’s easier for teachers to teach homogeneous groups than heterogeneous ones; even without mainstreamed/full-inclusion kids. A weaker teacher can do better with a narrower range of students. In fact, I think “differentiation” – as the term is currently used and implemented – is a fantasy which cheats most kids.

    I do agree, strongly, about student/teacher learning environment and the necessity to remove disruptors (some should be removed permanently).

  2. Thanks so much for the re-post! I think Roxanna raises incredibly important points and am so glad to see them get a wider readership. I agree with Momof4’s point, too, that it’s easier for teachers to work with a narrower range of students, especially here in California where class sizes are gigantic, often as large as 40 or more. I think that’s a really important factor in assessing how “good” a teacher is–what’s the situation that teacher faces? On my blog, Gatsby In L.A., I have a post called “Why Teachers In Underserved Communities should be paid more–a lot more” that outlines the additional work teachers need to do to reach a widely differentiated classroom that includes students far below grade level and students with serious behavior issues.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    And now example 24,716 for why we need more Philosophy in high school *and* college:

    “…great at things that only they can be great at…some type of spark that belongs to you, your special unique gift.”

    She then goes on to describe qualities that are not unique, and that do not belong only to the person possessing them.

    (Unless of course she means to say that everyone’s type of inspiration is different, which is ridiculous because everyone’s grading and classroom management is different, too.)

    What I think she is trying to say is something like: a great teacher ” ”is adequate at everything, good at the things that affect their instruction, with one or two really high-level talents that characterize their classroom and teaching style.”

    Why she couldn’t just say that, and why she feels the need to wrap her prose in semi-mystic “sparkling fair dust” twaddle, is beyond me. Indeed, it seems to run absolutely counter to the very point she is trying to make.

  4. ReadLikeYouMeanIt says:

    Fantastic piece. Thanks for posting about it. I also checked out the other blog Ms. Herman referred to here, about why teachers in underserved communities should be paid “a lot more,” and thought it was spot on. Count me as a new reader, Ms. Herman! http://gatsbyinla.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/why-teachers-in-underserved-communities-should-be-paid-more-a-lot-more/