‘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.

Professional development doesn’t pay off

Most professional development is a waste of time and money, writes Rick Hess. “Teachers are routinely subjected to fly-by consulting or enthusiastic workshops, without any sustained focus on particular problems or figuring how to use time, talent, and tools to solve them.”

The total cost — including salaries, substitutes, travel, etc. — could reach $8,000 to $12,000 annually per teacher, reports Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS).

“Yet hardly any of this actually appears to make teachers better,” writes Hess, citing a 2007 review of the research by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of PD is the fact that even teachers themselves regard it with contempt. Eric Hirsch, director of special projects with The New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, observes, “When you ask teachers what conditions matter most in terms of their future career plans and student learning, professional development has come in last on every survey we’ve done.”

Roxanna Elden, author of See Me After Class, wryly grouses that professional development is provided in sessions with names like, “Unlock the Sunshine! Shedding Light on the Opportunities Created by State Assessment 2.0.” She explains, “Usually, these sessions use PowerPoint presentations to [tell] teachers that rigor is important, suggest[ing] we’ve spent most of the year training our students to make different colored Play-Doh balls.”

Training programs for administrators “emphasize culture, coaching, and consensus above all else,” writes Hess in his new book, Cage-Busting Leadership. “After all, if one is disinclined to rethink staffing or spending, replace employees, reward excellence, or root out mediocrity, hoping you can train staff to be better at their jobs is really all you’ve got left.”

How reformers can’t stop alienating teachers

Education reformers are alienating teachers needlessly, writes Roxanna Elden, a Miami teacher and author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, who’s guest-blogging for Rick Hess. She lists Five School Reform Sound Bites That Hurt Teacher Buy-In.

“There is a growing assumption that education reformers are anti-teacher and teachers are anti-reform,” Elden writes. She thinks “most reformers became reformers for the same reasons that most teachers became teachers: a hope that we can provide a higher quality education to a greater number of children in a fairer and more equal way.”

But she wishes reformers would stop saying things like “We know what works.”

Teachers . . .  recognize this claim as an exaggeration used to introduce short-term fixes that in many cases don’t work. We also know that teaching is complex. Even in the same room, a successful lesson from first period might bomb after lunch. Likewise, instructional strategies may work for teachers who use them by choice, but lose their benefit when special-ops teams of non-teachers are deployed to mandate them throughout the district. In most cases, this approach leads to dog-and-pony shows that let observers walk away thinking their mandates “work” as advertised. At worst, it damages instruction by taking away teachers’ autonomy to make judgment calls about what really does work in our own classrooms. On the other hand, teachers are happy to hear about what has worked well for other teachers–as long as it is presented as such, not oversold by the same presenter who pushed a contradictory foolproof formula last year… using many of the same Power Point slides.

Also on her list of teacher-alienating sound bites:  “Demographics don’t determine destiny! (You lazy racist!),” “Measurable results,” “If grocery stores were run like public schools…” and “We need transformational change!”