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Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Cult of the Magical Teacher: Our National Delusion



For quite some time now, the American public has been told over and over again by movies, romances, newspapers, and politicians that the best teachers are miracle workers. We've been led to believe that great teachers (and in many cases, great teachers alone) have the capacity to take any group of low-performing students and raise their academic achievement to heights on par with any student in the country, or at least reach them in a way nobody else could. 



After all, Jaime Escalante did it in Stand and Deliver:



Erin Gruwell did it in Freedom Writers: 



And LouAnne Johnson did it in Dangerous Minds (with the super touching tagline: She broke the rules...and changed their lives):



Additionally, William Taylor brought a classroom with 40 percent of the students scoring on grade-level to a place where 90 percent of them were scoring on grade level.  Michelle Rhee's students "went from the 13th percentile in standardized national tests to the 90th percentile".  In only one year, 2005 National Teacher of the Year, Jason Kamras, managed to drop the percentage of his students scoring below basic from 80 percent to 40 percent.

All of these movies, articles, romances, and sound bites feed into a larger national narrative with a plot line that goes something like this: There are a bunch of poor, uneducated kids in this country because the schools have failed them with awful teachers (problem).  Luckily there are a bunch of idealistic, capable young people who are willing to give a few years of their lives to help them and save public education (solution).  The kids can be saved by teachers alone (conclusion).

Policy-makers, superintendents, and professional development gurus make a lot of these teachers' stories.  Over and over again, I've heard people like Wendy KoppJoel KleinAlfred TatumPaul Vallas, and Michelle Rhee say things like, "You don't have to change a student's socio-economic status, their home life, or their history.  All you have to do is put a great teacher in front of them and they will succeed."  And this really isn't an argument you want to find yourself on the other side of.  If you disagree and argue that a student's home life does matter, you're easily dismissed as someone who doesn't really believe in children.  And who wants to be tagged that way in the middle of a debate?

"You don't think their academic abilities can be raised without changing their home lives?  Then you must be a racist or bigot.  How dare you assume they're not capable!  You must not be a very good teacher, or else you would have made great progress with them." 

"But, uh, I can never reach their parents.  I can never get them to stay after school.  I can never get them to attend Saturday school.  What else am I supposed to do?" 

"Well, if you were a better teacher, they'd want to come.  Maybe you should find a new line of work." 

And the argument is over, and it's pretty clear that the any-kid-can-make-great-gains-argument is triumphant.

But there are reasons to be wary of this narrative.  To begin with, most of the inspirational teacher movies you see, while based on a true story, alter significant realities, which delude the viewer into a misunderstanding of teaching.  Take Jamie Escalante as an example.  Stand and Deliver would have you believe that Escalante decided one day that he was going to teach calculus at a low-achieving school.  All the rest of the teachers told him he was crazy and apparently hoped he would fail.  But he did it, and they all passed the AP exam.  It implies that you can take any student, no matter what their ability or home situation, and teach them any advanced topic of study, such as calculus.  This didn’t happen in reality.  It took Escalante ten years to reach the success the movie depicts.  And he did it by building a strong math program from the ground up, not by taking students struggling with arithmetic in high school and getting them to calculus within a year.

Or take Erin Gruwell in Freedom Writers.  If the movie is to be believed, Gruwell apparently only had one class of students for the entire day, and she was allowed to have the same class in the following years.  I know of no full-time teacher that’s afforded that luxury, especially in our most challenging schools.

Although many future teachers are inspired by these films, I’ve yet to meet a real teacher in a real school that isn’t somewhat offended by the ease with which reaching our most challenged students is portrayed: just give up your life for the kids and they’ll all go to college – not quite.  It’s also probably not a good sign when real teachers mock the techniques used by movie teachers.

Also, many of the teachers who are publicized for their students’ outstanding achievements lack proof for their claims.  Michelle Rhee famously has no evidence of her students’ rising from the 13th percentile to the 90th.  Another interesting reality plaguing many of these educators is that very few of them stay in the classroom longer than a few years.  Michelle Rhee stayed for three, William Taylor is in his third and getting ready to get his administrative certificate, Erin Gruwell left teaching after seeing her students graduate to work at the collegiate level, and Jason Kamras stayed for a whole eight after beginning with TFA. 

The magical teacher narrative would have us believe that you need very little experience in the classroom to be excellent, but also (if you pay attention to the details) that our best teachers don’t really enjoy teaching enough to stick with it (sadly research seems to bear this out).  But perhaps that’s because their success on paper belies their experience (Or maybe because they always had other ambitions in life beyond just teaching – but I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions.  It does strike me as odd, though, that the teachers that write and star in all the inspirational movies, books, and articles about their amazing success are no longer actually teaching.) 

Real teaching often looks a lot more like this (especially at 1:50):



Or this (especially at 2:00):



It's not that I don't think teachers can be inspirational; it's not that I don't think teachers can make great gains with some students; and it's not that I don't think teaching isn't incredibly important.  I remember my mom showing me Stand and Deliver a number of times and telling me that one day, that would be me.  I was just as inspired as anyone else.  And in the sense that this narrative motivates well-intentioned people to change the world, it has its merit, but it is still largely delusional to think that a single teacher can make up for all of the things that so many students lack in their lives.


I’d argue that the narrative being spun (by the media, organizations like TFA and KIPP, and Hollywood) certainly serves a purpose, but it’s not improving education.  I’d also argue that it's destructive. If we, as a country, allow ourselves to buy into this delusion, we will continue to make ill-informed decisions about ways to improve quality education for all children.   That, however, will be the topic of my next post, as this one is too long already. 

71 comments:

  1. For the inspirational teacher, don't forget Richard Mulligan (of the 1970s SOAP) playing the escaped mental patient who takes over the history class in the Nick Nolte movie, Teachers

    Or Ditto:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5ppKamqWM8

    In a perverse way, this film seems more authentic then the myth of Rhee and Kamras and Kopp

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  2. Thanks for this post -- I think the "myth of the miracle teacher" needs to be talked about more critically.

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  3. Wonderful piece. But to be even more thought-provoking and practical, please answer what are the things that teachers should be responsible for, under the circumstances. That is the big disconnect or abyss in the counter-teacher-bashing movement, no?

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  4. Anon 5:58, to answer what teachers are responsible for, here's my short list (bound to be incomplete, so please take this in good faith and don't twist my words or lack thereof):

    - making an effort to know my students and their lives (note: I had written "knowing students and their lives" but I revised that because I was saw in the 2nd TFA clip above around the 2:00 mark, building relationships is a 2-way street with kids)
    - knowing my content area and how to best teach it (ex: for science, what are the best methods to teach basic vocabulary vs. deeper understandings, or for math which mistakes are students likely to make and why, etc.)
    - planning thoughtful, standards-based lessons that present content in a variety of ways
    - providing opportunities for enrichment and for students to extend their knowledge (can be independent projects, or simply recommending a book or website to an interested student)
    - providing opportunities for remediation as necessary
    - making students and parents aware of their child's progress in class and how it can be improved (reasonable measures for this include: updating websites like Edline weekly, emailing, making phone calls, sending deficiency reports if you're in DCPS; unsolicited random house calls are definitely above and beyond the call of duty)
    - pursuing formal and informal professional development to help improve my teaching

    ...that's my short list. If I do all these things and still have some segment of students that are below basic, am I a bad teacher? Would I still be a bad teacher if I did these same things in Fairfax Co. or at Sidwell Friends and I then had successful students?

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  5. You should note that the claims of Jason Kamras are not born out by the actual scores at Sousa, where he taught. If I remember correctly, Guy Brandenberg did a post on this. The scores for Sousa in math during the 5 years that Kamras was there actually went down and did not rise above proficient until after he left. Kamras claimed that he found success by chucking the DCPS curriculum on math and developing his own. Was his class the only successful class and the rest of the school a failure? Most of these claims of incredible success via the superhero teacher (Kamras, Rhee, Kopp)all seem to whither under more intense scrutiny - almost as if that scrutiny were made of kryptonite.

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  6. Anon at 558: that is a great question and 100% relevant to the national dialogue we should be having about what schools are for and what we expect teachers to do. I think Anon at 644 hit on a lot of the the most important ones. I also touch on many of those in a previous post:

    http://www.anurbanteacherseducation.com/2010/01/what-makes-great-teacher_12.html

    I'll definitely keep that question in mind as I move forward with this line of thought in the next few posts. As a starter though, I think it's important for the public to agree that teachers should not be responsible for being parents (i.e. keeping food in class for the child who hasn't eaten in a few days, calling students at home to make sure they're awake for school, giving students a ride home when they're stranded at school, spending a large amount of time teaching social skills so that students can get something out of groupwork or a classroom in general).

    I'm not saying that teachers don't have to do these things - I know teachers who have done all of them, and I've done most of them. We often times have to if we want to make progress. (Students won't learn if they're starving, if they haven't slept, if they hate each other, if they can't act right). But, as I'm trying to point out, its delusional to expect teachers to be both parents and academic educators and have wild success with both.

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  7. Jason Kamras data:

    http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/what-is-the-value-of-having-a-superstar-teacher/

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  8. I'm tight with people who like this post.

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  9. 644 Anon. and RE--thanks so much for responding to my query. That question has been like a bad cloud following many teachers.

    558 Anon.

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  10. Anon 927: Agreed.

    lodesterre and edlharris: Thanks for sharing Guy's post.

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  11. A very well-written post on a very important topic. I really enjoyed reading and I'm glad that you "went there".

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  12. Great comments on the responsibilities of teachers. I would add modeling professional, academic behavior - this includes things like being on time, being prepared, dressing neatly and speaking and writing to the class in standard, grammatical English.

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  13. I have seen this many times in 25 years of teaching.... a student says, "I want to be a doctor, lawyer" or a high paid professional, but as you said, "I can never reach their parents. I can never get them to stay after school. I can never get them to attend Saturday school. I can never stop them from sleeping in class or even come to school." However, under NO circumstances am I allowed to suggest that their path might be misguided or that they must be committed. That would crush their "dream." Instead, we all pretend that if we just become "better teachers" all the knowledge needed to enter a professional career will suddenly click into place. And truly, I feel bad for the students, because the system feeds them on the lie that "anyone can do it at any time in their educational lifespan." (Devry, University of Phoenix, and other proprietary schools make millions duping these students with the same hogwash.)

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  14. Believe it or not, my principal used clips from Stand and Deliver to illustrate how to teach. I was surprised that the star struck teaching staff was oohing and aahing about Escalante's prowess within such a short period of time. I guess no one told him that the movie was Hollywood and not reality

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  15. Anon at 945: Agreed. I feel like a lot of the students who say they want to be a doctor but don't do their work or come to school know they won't be a doctor. But telling their friends and teachers that, most of whom won't be around to see if they actually become a doctor, allows them to live in a fantasy world, like you suggested. So is it wrong for a teacher to say, "Hey - listen, you're not going to be a doctor. You're 16; you're still a freshman; you never turn in your homework; and you've been written up four times in the last month."

    I don't know.

    I guess I would always say, "If you continue down the path you're going, you'll never be a doctor. And everyday that you continue this behavior, your chances of becoming one diminish significantly." But I admit I've said that to kids who I honestly thought had no chance in hell of becoming a doctor.

    Anon at 1132: I've read that the movie was used teacher-training schools all over the country when it came out. I don't know why. The movie is inspiring, not best practice. My mom called me about this post a few days ago and told me she never thought it was a good movie for teachers. She thought it was a good movie for students, something they could see to help them believe that they could do anything. But maybe, as anon at 945 pointed out, at some point that's just not true anymore.

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  16. Why can't we admit that most jobs - maybe all jobs - take talent as well as hard work and luck.

    No one expects someone to be a professional singer - even in a local backup group - if they can't carry a tune. A lot of smart people avoid certain professions, because they know through years of struggle, that they are not very good at them.

    I know a college freshman who just gave up her plans to become of brain surgeon after barely getting through college chemistry. She wasn't that great at high school chemistry either, but she had this dream....

    Luckily for her, she has other options, other talents and strong parental supports.

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  17. Hmmm...anon at 945 - when you quoted the U of Phoenix person saying "anyone can do it at any time in their educational lifespan." it struck a chord with me.

    I returned to school several years ago and will graduate with my bachelor's degree one week from today. I think that's "within my educational lifespan" which can be as long as you want it to be.

    But in high school I didn't want to be there. And I was lucky enough to be a middle-class kid with parental support, enough to eat, a safe home environment, etc. Nothing my teachers did or said could motivate me to more than mediocre work and I had some AMAZING teachers. But if a student doesn't want to/care about doing well (not to mention kids who live in total chaos) then no teacher can help, not even the Hollywood ones. :)

    I'm planning a career as a teacher now because I love love love teenagers and am passionate about my subjects. I'm waiting to hear if I've been accepted to grad school at U of Washington to get my M.Ed. and certification but it's scary to think that as a teacher I might be evaluated on things that are completely out of my control such as student motivation and home life.

    Do you teachers think that going into the field is/would be easier with a little foreknowledge about the struggles with admin, legislative issues, and increased push for privatization and testing?

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  18. Speaking generally, I think it's safe to say that institutes of higher education are not in the habit discouraging qualified candidates to sign up for their courses based on declining quality/quantity of job opportunities. They are in business too and need students to stay in business.

    I think it would be wise for you (or aspiring students in any field) to do your research ahead of time and approach prospective professors in advance to see how knowledgeable and upfront they are about the quality of job opportunities in their field.

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  19. Ms. EFavorite:-- I agree completely with your talent point.
    Would it be inappropriate to create a "talent index" to evaluate teachers? Not just test scores, but also: student reaction (can be measured visually; I am not thinking of ratings by kids), parental satisfaction (for reasonable expectations), and (existing) standardized tests for teachers' knowledge. (for example: give a chem teacher the college board test for chemistry graduates). I would like it to be a bell curve at least, but one sees and hears long accounts of a (few) great teachers, lots about the unenergetic bad ones who seem hazy on subject matter and may have outdated or little technique, and only a little about the ok/adequate teachers--who may be half, for all one can guess. Frankly, teachers say the most scathing things about fellow teachers, without much prompting. This sometimes comes out in blogs, but also rather easily in other informal conversations. Looking back on it, it is easy to see why Rhee might target teachers as the one variable in the educational equation that can be treated with relative ease, compared with social disadvantage, parent shortcomings, and the like. One thing is clear, the DCPS problem is not money, except for the bloated sums spent on special education.

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  20. Zat you, Axoloti? If so, please say so.

    At any rate, for a list of teacher qualifications, please see a recent Post here. Many commenters, myself included, had good ideas about it.

    Talents are a little different, I think. I see them as something natural that can be developed. Teachers can have different talents and be successful in the classroom.

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  21. If I were "Axolotl," I would [probably] say so. BTW, I do like your addendum to the list of teacher responsibilities, especially being dressed crisply and speaking and writing standard English. I can tell you are a serious, talented educator, EFavorite. 109 commenter.

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  22. Anon at 1132: I read the Stand and Deliver Revisited article to my high school math students and talked with them about the truth behind the movie. What resonated with them most was the idea that some of these students made a decision in middle school or, at the latest, freshman year in high school to dedicate themselves to their studies and to attend extra classes in order to get to AP Calc. That to me is the most inspiring part of the movie.

    Anon 109: I love the idea of "rating" student reactions. I would like to add that teacher evaluations should be different based on age of the students and subject taught. I would never think to evaluate a math teacher in the same way that I would a history teacher. We don't evaluate our students identically in those two classes yet we accept that evaluating teachers using the same rubric across subject areas is acceptable.

    RE, I completely agree with your post and with almost all of the comments above. Thank you for posting about this subject. I am lucky to have found a school where these conversations are common in our faculty lounge AND with our administration.

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  23. anon 109 - it was this comment that suggested to me that you were someone else, "Looking back on it, it is easy to see why Rhee might target teachers as the one variable in the educational equation that can be treated with relative ease, compared with social disadvantage, parent shortcomings, and the like. "

    I saw it as typical of people (like Rhee and "axoloti") who consistently blame the teachers for low achievement. Certainly there are ineffective teachers, but maligning and blaming the whole teacher corps for problems they did not cause and cannot single handedly change does not help children and does not make for better teachers. Please excuse me for lumping you with that bunch. It's a touchy subject for me.

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  24. EFavorite,
    Sorry to have upset or offended you. It was unintended. I don't know the percentage of ineffective teachers. I do know, with certainty, though, that it is way too high--and that's mainly from teachers talking/writing, plus a lot of parent input from all over the city. You would know better, probably, but I won't press you for the percentage of ineffective teachers that you might estimate because I just know you won't reveal it. That's fine. I do know you think the new recruits are mostly ineffective because they have not toiled for years, but I am taken by studies (no citations here because you know the research) that suggest teachers can peak as early as five years. I am concerned not about the Barry-era hires, but the next cohort or two. Too many have given up, and they show that in many ways, repeatedly. They are the almost certainly and disproportionately those who did not care to vote on the contract. They have given up on the kids and on their work and are waiting things out til retirement. I'd buy them out if I had the power because they just spread the stink of failure and resignation to the students.

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  25. I don’t think new recruits are “mostly ineffective,” I think they are all inexperienced and can’t be expected to improve education as a group. In what other line of work are inexperienced workers thought to be the answer to improved professionalism?

    I have never seen the research you cite; I’ve only heard allusions to it. Please cite it if you can. But again – what if a study were done that found that doctors and lawyers and administrators and plumbers and journalists “peaked” after five years? Would there be a movement to rid the ranks of those occupations of post-peak employees? No – there’d be a huge outcry that experience matters and that the study was flawed. I doubt such a study would be done on other fields; it’s so obvious that experience is desirable.

    You don’t know why people didn’t vote on the contract. Neither do I, but I guess teachers felt defeated in general, ill-served by their union, and hoping for some money before they left voluntarily or involuntarily.

    I think the current focus on teachers is revolting. I don’t see them as the major cause of educational problems, and, as RE points out, neither are they a panacea.

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  26. Excellent post and a topic that needs to be discussed pragmatically and realistically. I'm with you.

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  27. Then, Efavorite, what are teachers supposed to be?
    In many occupations, people are dismissed for a bad run or even bad luck if they do not meet expectations. In many "professions," the clients and patients tend to disappear when mistakes are made. (Not enough of this happens, e.g., lousy doctors are numerous.)

    Experience does matter, but a lot of the experience in DC is just not good--listen and observe your colleagues, and for goodness sake, talk to some parents--more than your own class's if you possibly can. Read the illiterate posts, even those with solid content, from teachers on that other blog. (I agree with you that the numbers game of the tests is phony.)

    How did we get here? Did poverty and other socio-economic ills only reach the population in the last few years? Hardly so. Did DCPS suddenly get bad, or was it staggering for a long time?

    The Board of Ed. was stunningly incompetent. So were a lot of the superintendents; they could each do one or two things adequately or well, but not the five or six things that a successful system needs its CEO to do.

    And all of this was our choice, via elections and the appointments and hiring that took place in democratic fashion.

    I wasn't around when the District was managed by the Federal government, but many who were say the schools began declining about the time we got home rule (an elected mayor) in the early 70s.

    The schools situation is so troubled, and so key to a healthy city in almost all respects, that I would give up home rule and statehood if we could only have a well managed public school system. Too bad that the Federal government is fairly incompetent now.

    I no longer have school-age kids and won't be around all that long, but just as you sound depressed and angry, so am I--about the schools--with the persistent fighting of any and all changes by teachers and entrenched bureaucrats.

    We have allowed this travesty to happen. What the union may have done to or for teachers pales in comparison to the overall picture of DCPS on its knees, begging to be delivered from itself and (many of) its employees.

    Rhee's mixed performance represents a roll of the dice--a reasonable chance to take at the time, as is mayoral control. And I--and many others--are prepared to continue with that if no other change agent is around.

    No one's trying to push to charters or to privatize for the hell of it. Those instruments are still not proven, and getting them right is incredibly challenging. But we know in great depth what does not work in the District.

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  28. Your eagerness to blame and malign teachers is completely evident. Many private sector workers can control their product in a way teachers cannot and don't even want to. Teachers main motive is to help their students, as they find them, to learn, as best they can under circumstances the teacher didn't create and doesn't control.

    Oncologists aren't judged by how many of their patients die under their care. If they were, few people would choose that specialty.

    Builders ARE judged by how well their buildings stand up, but they also have control over their materials and a responsibility to reject materials that won't stand the test of time.

    Consider - Michelle Obama's program has a goal of reversing childhood obesity in a generation -- a generation -- not in a few years, using an untested and dubious means of making kids' weight quickly plummet by 20%, and firing the front line workers in the program if they can't make it happen. Mrs. Obama's program recognizes that obesity a big societal problem that doesn't have a quick fix.

    So it is with urban education, but as long as the focus is on a quick fix - any quick fix -- it won't be solved.

    What a disservice this is to the children.

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  29. E-Favorite: You make a good point that teachers are different than other types of professionals in that they cannot control much of their "input" (unlike a building engineer who can select types of stone or wood). I previously worked as a teacher (and now work as an attorney), and I can attest to the fact that teachers are affected by many factors over which they have little or no control: number and type of students, level of administrative support, amount and quality of school supplies (even such basic supplies as paper and pencils), level of support (or lack thereof) from their students' parents, number and subject of assigned classes, and many other variables. I found that my effectiveness as a teacher varied considerably based on which of these factors was present in my particular teaching situation.

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  30. EFavorite,
    You seem as sensitive to constructive criticism as you are capable and smart as a teacher. I don't "malign" all teachers. I just want the ineffective ones who are incapable of improvement gone. DC's process for this is very gentle and too long/ Think of five teachers in your school who should be gone, by your own standards. How would you like them teaching your kids?

    You can't name a more insulated-from-customer occupation than public school teachers, who are like other public employees in this respect.
    Your seeming resistance to change is breath-taking. With your high standard, we can decrease the pace of constructive change in any field to near zero. Experienced and expert people in just about any field will be happy with any "80 percent" solution.

    Perfection never comes. And we have run out of time in the District. Conditions are chaotic because of politics, the cumulative effects of bad service, unemployment and poverty, and yes, a certain cabal of teachers who would resist change with one hand while grabbing for pay and job security with the other. Again you would know better what proportion fits this description. But it ain't small. And most DC citizens are not about to wait years for the union to battle it out with management, or to spend years on an evaluation system, or spend years to move the persistent nonperformers out.

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  31. talk about breath-taking - your determination to focus on teachers and teachers alone fits the bill.

    You sound like Michelle Rhee

    “And the only way we’re going to get out of this situation [low achievement] is if we have great teachers. That is the only solution that we have, and so that’s why we’re really focused on it.”
    http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Connecting_With_The_Chancellor___2_13_09_Washington_DC.html News 4 TV

    "teachers are everything. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/11/AR2007061102383_pf.html

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  32. eFAvorite: teachers are one focus, perhaps the largest of several. there are also processes and products of DCPS labor and expenditures, such as: curriculum, facilities, administration, management, compensation, recruitment, professional development, evaluation, special-emphasis programs of many types, special education (too much cost, I hope you agree), etc. Notice, I did not list "curing poverty" or "getting parents to be more interested and supportive"--because the government is not going to do anything but jawbone about the latter, and use its same, tired band-aids for the former. The former will take decades; it is not going away. So, why not focus mainly on teachers? What is the alternative? Do you think there are other variables to treat? What are they?

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  33. Because focusing on one aspect of a big problem doesn't solve the problem, especially if the focus is misconstrued to magnify and/or misidentify the problem.

    Why not focus on bad text books or anything else? Get rid of all the bad books, substitute good books and see what happens?

    Maybe change all the principals and nothing else. Maybe that will work.

    How about putting fresh bandaids on that festering sore every day, but never going to the doctor to see why it isn't healing? Will that be good in the long run? Better than nothing?

    Sorry, you have to look at the whole problem if you want to solve it. making excuses about why it's too hard to do is just silly.

    Another thing -- if that illusive research that says teachers peak after five years is true, so what? Do we want constant turnover of inexperienced professionals who are encouraged to leave as soon as they peak? how long does the peak last? When they start going downhill (how ever that is measured) are they still better than completely inexperienced people coming in?

    Should an author stop writing after her first best seller to make room for fresher writers on their way up? Should an opera singer retire once they get rave reviews at the Met?

    These are rhetorical questions -- I don't expect answers.

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  34. I want no turnover of effective teachers. I would like the ineffective ones gone as soon as possible. Your notion of culling for "bad" textbooks rather than focusing on teachers is one more signal that you, sadly, are not going to open your mind to any constructive change. (If the books are bad, let's get rid of them asap, while we also address, say, "teachers.") You'd like this process to take, perhaps....forever, with years and years worth of yet additional "research." I don't expect a response from you, either. But, remember the "80 percent" solution. Nothing is perfect.

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  35. You use "this will take forever" as an excuse to not address the totality of the problem and instead purge teachers.

    I want it to be done effectively, in a way that will - yes -- help children.

    I call projection when you say, "you, sadly, are not going to open your mind to any constructive change." I want bad teachers "gone" too, but know that getting rid of that minority won't address the most vexing problems in education, which you brush off as too time-consuming and difficult to bother with, when you can get the immediate relief of firing teachers.

    It's easy to look down imperiously at teachers, especially the embarrassing "bad" ones who may be great with the kids, but who don't travel in the same circle as in group.

    Solving the real problems in education is much more complex than sending supposed good teachers to one side and bad teachers to the other, but it sure is gratifying to feel superior isn't it?

    Too bad it doesn't take the place of facing the real problems in education.

    It's been quite informative getting a sense of the entrenched mindset of a reformer.

    Thanks

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  36. What I think seems to be missing from this conversation is that it's a lot harder to identify "bad teachers" than one might think. What I think so many people who are adamant about firing bad teachers are thinking of are the kinds that sit and read the newspaper during class and make no effort to help kids. Hell yes - fire those people! But anyone who's really trying their ass off with a group of kids who've never been expected to do rigorous academic work - let's hold on to those people forever.

    It seems a lot of the lets-fire-the-bad-ones crowd think that teaching is a relatively simple job to do. You go to college, know what you're teaching, tell it to the kids, and give them some tests. If you've ever attempted to teach a group of students in our most disadvantaged communities (a class of which may have as many as 50% English language learners and 20% special education), you know this is a terribly complicated profession that takes decades to master. There are somewhere between 3.3 and 3.7 million teachers in the US. There are 340 licensed high schools in the state of Georgia and only 80 licensed physics teachers. If our idea is to merely fire all the bad teachers and replace them with a bunch of Jaime Escalantes, we've already lost.

    I'd prefer to see the language of the argument changed from "bad" to unmotivated. Say, let's fire all the unmotivated teachers, and I'm on board (not that it makes it a more objective task). But "bad" - no, I don't think so. There are too many struggling (and rightly so) teachers out there who need serious time and support to get better. Let's help them, not fire them.

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  37. More of the narrative being spun in the WaPo:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/08/AR2010060803740.html

    My reaction:

    Thank you Michael Gerson for continuing to delude us into believing that Teach for America is a possible silver-bullet solution to education. You do a great job of spouting the talking points of Wendy Kopp and Michele Rhee while demonstrating a truly shallow understanding of what it really means to teach in an urban classroom.

    TFA is certainly not all bad, but it's articles like this that enforce the delusional national narrative that assumes that teaching is not a true profession that requires experience to be excellent at and helps the public believe that we don't really have to change anything about social inequity if we are to close the achievement gap.

    I've taught four years in three very different urban schools and today I spent observing and assisting four different TFAers in the South Bronx. They all had three things going for them: they all cared deeply about their students, they all developed fairly positive relationships with about 75% of their students, and they all had an amazing handle on contemporary educational jargon. What they lacked, however, included the ability to gain the full attention of their entire class, the ability to have their entire class work on a task at the same time, the ability to create instructional activities that actually transmitted the concepts to their ELLs, and an ability to assess whether their instruction had actually worked.

    And frankly, there's really nothing wrong with those negatives if you're going to hang around the career and get better at them. But all of these teachers were planning on being done at the end of this year. And as a result, they effectively built a lot of positive relationships but didn't come close to teaching the students as much as an effective teacher would.

    You tell a nice story, but you clearly lack the insight to discuss the subtleties of this issue. And on your statistic about 65% of TFA members staying in education, please see:

    http://www.rethinkingschools.org/restrict.asp?path=archive/24_03/24_03_TFA.shtml

    and note that that statistic is drawn from TFA's own survey (which has a far greater interest in serving its core members than students) and that it's based only on people who responded to the survey and "being in education" could be anything from helping a senator on policy to being a teacher to writing about it in a newspaper.

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  38. Ok, let's eschew "bad." I'll go with unmotivated, but we can't forget the unskilled and undisciplined.

    If readers can get inside, I suggest entering any DC school at a random time and walk down a few hallways. You only need 30 seconds near any open classroom doorway to get a random-moment impression. No claim to this being scientific, or valid with high confidence. Go to ten doorways if you can. Try it. You will see/hear some good performances, but also unmotivated and undisciplined, and even perhaps a teacher "offline," e.g., on a cell phone or just not there. Or perhaps a bumbling sub, or if lucky, a good sub.
    Also, in shunning "bad" and thinking about remediation, we need to examine the limits DCPS will go to so cure motivational/skill/discipline problems. It currently goes way too far. How would you like your kid in their class?

    Finally, let's surely respect teachers for their high importance to the community and their/our investment in their careers. While we do enough to pay them, there is not enough meaningful public recognition. It is surprising how little there is. In the District, I think that is because public schools have become a third rail, regardless of the good teachers and some successes to brag about.

    And let's not make "education" or "teaching" such a mysterious, high fallutin', exclusive area of activity that only teachers can claim to understand it or cause/influence fixes. They may have many of the best ideas, but we cannot count on independence of thought or objectivity from them; no, not in the recent environment. That would be foolish. "Reality" will be determined with inputs by teachers and multiple parties.

    And don't expect neat, social-science prescriptions from the bloated trail of "studies" out of our best education schools. The deans of all the top ones are the first to say their schools' ability to contribute to practical school reforms is unacceptably low, and that their graduates are not taught much of what they really need.

    We have had quite enough of noncooperation and delay, and barriers imposed by teachers/unions to observing, evaluating, fixing, recruiting, remediating, firing teachers are null and void beyond the strictures of the new contract and DC government policies and regs.

    These are public servants, and our set of teachers are of great concern. We want them to succeed, but they will accept inputs and help and direction from the institutional and governmental chains of command (yes, that's what it is) that hires and pays them, and the customers (parents, kids, communities) they are supposed to serve.

    And the public "clock" will not stop or slow down for a leisurely, guaranteed non-stressful, continued program of constructive change. I have not met anyone who thinks we can slow the pace of change except some teachers. It is time for all teachers to cooperate and for some of them to stop impeding and denying the not-always-neat process of the critical public entity that is DCPS.

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  39. There is absolutely NO WAY thirty seconds near a door will give you an idea about how good a teacher is. Let's drop that assumption immediately. Go set some goals for students, step in a classroom, spend a year seeing if you can meet them, and then come back with some better insight.

    And let's agree that teaching is, in fact, highly technical and in fact a very complex act if done well. Unless you can tell me off the top of your head the best methods to teach thirty kids to grasp a concept like capitalism, the ins and outs of including English language learners in a mainstream classroom, the best strategies for teaching a 16-year-old who can't read to grasp The Autobiography of Malcolm X, or what it takes to teach a group of thirty teenagers from broken homes to respect themselves and education, I'm not going to side with you when you suggest that it's such a simple process that anyone can do it or understand the subtleties of the classroom.

    And teachers, by and large, are certainly NOT paid enough. Our society doesn't value education, so that that's the deal we get, but let's not pretend that a job that (done well) takes 60-70 hours a week and does great things to improve society is worth 37k (which is what I would be making in most districts across the country).

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  40. Ok, RE, I lost you. Sorry. But I did not claim the observations would be valid, although they would be very useful in forming impressions. (Of course, teachers deny the validity of Impact and virtually any form of evaluation of what they do, or so it appears.)

    But I am not going to spend "a year" in a class observing or bother with setting goals. I am just a consumer of education services as a citizen-taxpayer, and I can tell you the doorway impressions square with more systematic indicators. Think of it as flavoring of perceptions about the schools.

    As for pay, the District now pays quite well. If it is enough or not is besides the point; taxpayers, almost anywhere, would not settle for paying what we do. Personally, I think the pay should be more--but only if there is evidence of value. There are few signs of acceptable levels of value of education services in DCPS. And teachers tend to debunk any outcome-related indicators.


    As perceptive and intelligent and thoughtful as you come across, you, too, seem to want to say only a teacher can understand teaching. Fine. But I say any expert consumer or thoughtful observer can understand "education," and know when it is good or "unmotivated," as well as learn quickly what the problems are and what the levers for solution are.

    Your argument goes to dust if imposed on anything else--we know what bad doctors sound and act like; we know what crappy journalists are. We all know how lousy civil servants come across in many agencies. Plumbers, bus drivers, I could go on--we do not need to do what they do to know if the service is good or "unmotivated." Or even how it is supposed to work or actually works. That argument just screams: delay forever, no change entertained or wanted, leave me alone, etc.

    Those days are over in DCPS, I sense, from abundant data and sources. That attitude has been instrumental in getting us where we are today.

    Just think, if all of the low-income parents who do not or cannot support their kids in educational endeavors ever tuned into education, many teachers could not handle the feedback they would give you. And, I am afraid, a large number of teachers would not like what they hear, and deny the content offered to them.

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  41. It would make a phenomenal difference if all the low-income parents who do not or cannot support their kids in educational endeavors tuned into the education of their children. It would transform the environment for teaching and learning in the classroom.

    I believe that good teaching, family support and a strong school culture of high academic and behavioral expectations make all the difference. Each piece plays a very important role in the education of children.

    Would I send mine to DCPS? I know some fantastic DCPS teachers. And I would be concerned about DCPS teachers just like I am concerned about the teachers my kid's get from year to year in the suburbs. But unlike the suburbs, at DCPS I would be very concerned about the expectations that students have for each other. I want my children around good role models. I would also be looking very closely at how school administration handles student discipline.

    Having a great teacher does make a difference. But we need give voice to some of the other issues that make urban education such a challenge for teaching and learning.

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  42. I'm not really sure what we're arguing about anymore.

    Only a teacher can understand teaching? No, there are plenty of teachers that don't. However, in the same way that I'd hold a doctor's opinion of the hospital organization above my own, I'd expect members of the public to at least listen to what teachers have to say (although I certainly admit you have to take what they say with a grain of salt because they have a financial interest in particular policies).

    I don't think it's impossible to distinguish good teachers from bad, just that you're not going to do it effectively with a rubric and a bunch of administrators that spent no more than a few years in the classroom. What a good teacher is will best be decided by those with lots of experience and will always be subjective. Outcome-based criteria may be more fair in some settings than others, but if you base it on that you will give great teachers a perverse incentive to stay away from the kids that need them most.

    Lastly, there are a ton of relatively worthless people in the teaching field. But consider the incentives (or I should say barriers) to enter: a thankless job that demands an outrageous degree of patience and hours in our most challenging settings; often receiving abuse from students, parents, and administrators; a salary on par with a manager at McDonalds; four to six years of schooling required prior to entry; and a barrage of tests and professional development that you have to pay for out of your own pocket (I've spent almost $2000 in three years on that bs). We're not exactly going to draw the most talented, fabulous people with that kind of gig.

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  43. You, RE, should be paid more. I do not understand the bands/standard deviations around the $81K average that would reflect a young teacher like you. I thought the starting pay was better for people with a MA. I hope the new contract improves things for you, if you come back to DCPS, which I hope you do.

    Your observation that "there are a ton of relatively worthless people in the teaching field" is a rare, sincere one by a teacher in a fairly public place. You will probably take a lot of crap for saying that, but I thank you for your informed opinion.

    I do know we also have some good and great teachers in DCPS, but I don't think the distribution and numbers are comparable.

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  44. Right - you have to be careful with that 81k number as not all (or even most) teachers make that much (I don't know the statistics). There are a handful of people who've been around quite a long time making 100k+, and I think they're helping the avg distort how much money the public thinks DCPS teachers make. If you look at all of the teachers Rhee has hired, I'd bet their avg. salary would look something more like 45-50k.

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  45. New teachers are coming in at less than $45,000. This back and forth about what makes a good teacher is dispiriting, of course if it was so easy the problem would have been fixed a long time ago. Lest not forget that it is also in some peoples best interest if certain members of the population do not learn to be college educated critical thinkers. Why were public schools created anyway in the western world, it certainly wasn't so every child could go on to college? Hence, my skepticism about organizations like Walmart bank rolling our public schools. Teachers have no control over the curriculum (or lack of one DCPS, a list of standards is not a curriculum), textbooks (or lack of), diagnostic tools, resources (equally distributed), percentage of Sped (MR, ED, and undiagnosed), ELLs and many other factors. To suggest that they can overcome all the ills in society in the classroom, quite frankly is just plain stupid. Try working in an inner-city high school, it's like working in an insane asylum most of the time, that anyone comes out of there with a high school diploma is a miracle. It is also testimony to perseverance and dedication by teachers and students alike, most of the general population wouldn't last a week. The noise level, violence, and general organized chaos that students have to contend with on a regular day just to attend classes is shocking. You cannot compare what our inner-city youth have to contend with (nor our teachers) at a failing DCPS with the students at private or other stable DCPS schools, for some just getting to school is an ordeal. These simplistic arguments are as exhausting as the school environment. For all those critics who are non-teachers, come share your expertise at your local DCPS, adopt a school or a student, it truly takes a village.

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  46. Hear hear to the post by anonymous at 10:03pm last night.

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  47. Although the argument politicians and pundits would make to your observation that if the answer was easy it would have been solved a long time ago, is this: it's those damn unions!! If we just got rid of those, we'd suddenly have these awesome worthy teachers and all these kids in urban schools would turn into little Einsteins.

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  48. Time to cease reductio ad absurdam, 5:16pm commenter. No one's making that point, but perhaps some teachers with a block tend to want to hear it that way.

    The question remains: in light of all things (unions, economic-social conditions, state of communities), what, then will teachers do in class?

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  49. so, anon at 6:26 - answer your question -- what will teachers do in class? and what difference will it make if nothing else changes? and what is your point?

    What will AIDS doctors do if there is not a cure for it? What will accountants do if people don't live within their means? Dietitians if people overeat?

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  50. We can infer that the 6:26 person was asking, really, what outcomes or results will teachers sign up for, given the impediments that the students may have from factors outside class? Simple question, but perhaps difficult to answer. As long as it has been raised, it would be helpful for someone to answer. If the answer is obvious, I sure as heck can't see it.

    The analogies of the 10:23 person don't readily compute. Doctors treat patients and can determine results, starkly. Accountants' outputs are not people staying within budgets. Dieticians produce diets and reports, not the people. The education question is essentially: what do teachers produce/generate for their time and pay, given the problems of students? Surely something can be cited (I hope).

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  51. What do teachers produce for their time and pay?

    The answer is not quite as quantifiable as in other professions. Teaching is not straight-forward work. It requires a great deal of thought and reflection. You're not churning out as many widgets as you can in an hour. Of course, we all want teachers to improve their students' understanding of the world, and particularly whatever content their charged with teaching. But how do you measure that? And how accountable can you hold a teacher for a student's performance if that student doesn't put any effort into the course.

    Let me take it to an extreme in order make a point. If I, as a teacher, am given a classroom of twenty-five students and asked to teach them how to write a worthy piece of literary criticism, yet not one of them pays a bit of attention to anything I say in class or participates in any activity I assign, and none of them are able to write anything resembling literary criticism at the end of the course, am I to have my pay docked because I didn't "produce" anything?

    Great teaching is important, but a students progress will always be a function of both teaching quality AND the effort they choose to exert (and I lean toward believing a student's effort is often a more powerful factor).

    Also, measuring as student's academic progress is always tenuous at best, especially if students are uninterested in participating in your evaluation. We can collect test scores and decide whether they indicate improvement, but they'll never be anything more than datum points, each with their own complicated story that could never be accurately expressed in a graph.

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  52. RE, thoughtful as usual, but not hitting the mark.

    Your analogy is a top example of reductio ad absurdam.

    Whatever happened to classical "good teaching"? Now teaching is a mysterious art where what teachers do and what the results are, well, they are claimed to defy description.

    Further, blog commenters who appear to be teachers are using the old chestnut: "if you have not been a teacher, not only can you not understand our pickle, you are not qualified to comment on it." That's double-secret BS to anyone with one-quarter of a brain.

    All professions have a similar problem, yet the trend in almost all of them is to more and more metrics and accountability. Teachers are rushing, in an unseemly way, in the other direction.

    I know some teachers find this professionally embarrassing, but it should not come as a surprise that teachers as a group are subject to more scrutiny, more demands, and, yes, less respect, as a result

    Teachers can't solve or make up for society's ills that make teaching challenging (I learned the long list of ills to the point of perfection from teachers in the not too recent past; I can recite it better than many teachers).

    What it is coming down to is this: pay us well, give us job security and fat pensions, and we will try to teach. As for learning, no promises whatsoever. And I won't readily accept any yardstick to measure how I am doing or what the result is.

    Try dealing with a plumber, a lawyer, a doctor, a gardner, a garbageman, car mechanic, a dry cleaner, a professional musician who postures that way. You won't be happy, especially since if you have paid (tax money, as we do for teachers) in advance.

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  53. Anonymous: Your comparison of teachers' performance metrics to those lawyers, doctors, and garbagemen is inaccurate. If a teacher presents high quality lectures to her class, but some of the students don't study for the test and therefore do poorly, this is not the fault of the teacher any more than it is the fault of a doctor who tells his patients to undergo a procedure, but the patient chooses not to do so, or an attorney who advises his client to follow a course of action, but this client decides not to follow his advice. A doctor is not penalized if his patient refuses to follow his recommended treatment plan, and an attorney is not penalized if her client refuses to follow her advise (for example, to retain an actuary for additional information). Why should teachers be the only profession that is penalized when some of their "clients" do not follow their advice or direction?

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  54. Anon at 9:26 where did anyone but you say, "if you have not been a teacher, not only can you not understand our pickle, you are not qualified to comment on it." I can't find it.

    What I do often hear teachers complaining about is that legislators, administrators and others who are making decisions about education do not consult teachers. That's a little different.

    There are many ways to evaluate teachers, which have been mentioned in this thread and others, and they are similar to ways in which many other fields are rated.

    You, however, seem determined to evaluate teachers mainly by how well their students do, despite the many influences affecting students over which teachers have no control.

    It's a model that does not work.

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  55. 1:55pm/EFavorite: I also strongly believe in teacher consultation by all those stakeholders. Parents, too. If Ms. Rhee were a more effective executive, she'd have done this, but she has peeved a lot of stakeholders--but not too many parents, as far as I can tell--by not gathering/sharing/taking feedback on facts and views concerning her intentions. If the teachers' union were functional, instead of in extremis, it might have been part of the solution to that missing link to teachers. (I hope that improves if Mr. Saunders wins, but I get the feeling that he is going to declare renewed war on Rhee, which will just make matters worse for everyone, especially teachers.) No, I am not determined to evaluate "mainly" by what students do. But I would like what students to be significant, though not the main factor. What would be a good way to define that "significant" piece--the piece that does reflect student achievement? We can't leave student achievement or lack of it it out of teacher evaluations, which is what some teachers sound like they want. That will never be acceptable to parents and whoever the overseers of a school system are.

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  56. Anon, you say, “We can't leave student achievement or lack of it out of teacher evaluations, which is what some teachers sound like they want. That will never be acceptable to parents and whoever the overseers of a school system are.”

    That pronouncement is simply false. It sounds more like a political statement than anything else. Student achievement has routinely not been a part of teacher evaluation. The idea of including it as an evaluation factor is new and very controversial. Parents have not expected it and as far as I know have not called for it. Some “overseers” certainly are, but it’s not based on any empirical evidence that it will work. In fact, new research based on Chicago students, finds that children living in areas where homicides are committed have lower reading and verbal test scores.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100614160157.htm

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  57. As an interested observer of the argument, the contention in the 8:34am comment is a set up for optimal derision and an obvious political canard. Of course student achievement is a part of evaluations. The use of standardized tests is very widespread, for example.
    Most people don't care if something is "new" or "controversial" if it is sensible. "Empirical evidence" has the odor of, say, five more years of study, during which the AFT can pound the shit out of the idea. The 8:34 commenter needs to put himself/herself in the position of the source of taxpayer/state legislature/US Dept of Ed--the sources of almost every dime school districts spend. These funders, like parents, want to know: what do teachers do to earn their pay? What do they accomplish to keep on earning their pay and often generous pensions? The comment being responded to just screams--I'll take the compensation but won't be on the hook for anything. What happened to "education?" The teachers think some nefarious groups are trying to snuff it out, but they are the enemy within--not caring to obligate themselves to achieve anything. The will kill public education faster than anything else.

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  58. Anon at 935: You keep claiming that teachers should be held accountable for student performance.

    Please address how we can effectively do that when student achievement is as much (if not more) a function of student effort as teacher effort instead of continuing to say the same thing over and over again.

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  59. Good point, RE, also, notice that Anon leaves out the word "teacher" in front of "evaluations" when stating, "Of course student achievement is a part of evaluations. The use of standardized tests is very widespread, for example"

    Standardized tests are used to evaluate students - that is their purpose - like any other tests given to students.

    Do you really think the readers here don't see though your rhetorical tricks and specious arguments?

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  60. EFavorite--I could have sworn that people do indeed make a strong connection between student achievement, including on tests, and teacher performance. Call me crazy.

    You seem to be of the "school" where teachers don't get evaluated, where they bear no responsibilities and demand high pay for that, and where they seize every excuse to remain unassociated with students' education.

    RE--let's parse your observation. If not
    "accountable," are teachers "responsible" for student performance in any way? If yes, how much (you can use an adjective if you want)?

    I am afraid that no matter how skilled both of you might be, the attitude you radiate is at the core of why parents, indeed the nation of taxpayers and citizens in good school districts and the not so good, are looking skeptically or plainly unhappily at teachers. No, it is not the smelly labor unions, but rather the attitudes of teachers who simply say, "Oh, education is not my job."

    I dare you to say that to a room full of parents, to a board of education or city council, or in press interviews.

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  61. Anon at 122: You keep claiming that teachers should be held accountable for student performance.

    Please address how we can effectively do that when student achievement is as much (if not more) a function of student effort as teacher effort instead of continuing to say the same thing over and over again.

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  62. I have never heard a teacher say "Oh, education is not my job" to anyone.

    Talk about "radiating an attitude!"

    Are you going to address RE repeated question?

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  63. EFavorite.....you're the person dodging questions.

    You may try to turn the tables in this blog, but you can't do it in the real world without further debasing the once-respected place of teachers in the local community.

    If you did the /nothing/ you describe, you'd be out of a job in just about any district one could name.

    You refuse to name even one thing -- to educate, not do administration -- that teachers are responsible for.

    Without committing to educational activity in the classroom that you will be responsible for, what do people pay teachers for?

    If that is too odious a task, just tell us what your education-related accomplishments have been this academic year. Give us consumers an idea of the education services you deliver. And if no learning is taking place, don't even bother.

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  64. Hey, after all those compliments, you're now using terms like "debasing?" Look back at what I and others have already said about teacher responsibilities -- it's all there.

    Also, back in the day when teachers were respected, people held students responsible for what they learned - not teachers. Teachers were responsible for content knowledge and for teaching and grading papers. Students were responsible for learning. It's still that way in college, and everywhere else in the world that I know of.

    Do you really think that there are "consumers" listening in here who eager to assess the quality of educational services being delivered and who are likely to find people who express ideas like mine wanting?

    Are you going to answer RE's repeated question?

    "Anon at 122: You keep claiming that teachers should be held accountable for student performance.

    Please address how we can effectively do that when student achievement is as much (if not more) a function of student effort as teacher effort instead of continuing to say the same thing over and over again."

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  65. "wanting"?--sure, absolutely if teachers don't do everything they can to achieve education and promote learning, given the state of the students. the passivity of what is becoming the public style of teachers in the classroom is a real problem for most stakeholders.
    i don't expect a third grader from a low-income background with one parent to achieve learning on her own. teachers have to work at that, not just "offer" it in one-way communication with little interaction and no assessment of whether learning is taking place. not sensible to compare that third grader's situation to "college." if you are teaching fundamental skills and knowledge to elementary schoolers the way you would teach math or American Lit in college, that's the wrong path.

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  66. I'm with EFavorite: Anonymous is dodging the question of how teachers can be judged on student performance, when student performance is as much (if not more) a factor of the student's own motivation, hard work (or lack thereof), skills and prior knowledge. Anonymous: I agree that third grade teachers can't teach just like college professors...but no one's saying that they do or that they should. The metal meets the road in situations where a teacher is trying hard to educate a student (preparing interesting lesson plans, offering supplemental tutoring, providing feedback, etc.) but the student is simply not holding up his or her end of the bargain by attending class regularly, paying attention, and putting forth an effort.

    When I was a teacher, there were always a few students who just didn't make school a priority. For example, I had a student in first period English who didn't come to first period. He stayed out late with his friends (so said his mom), slept in most days and usually arrived around the beginning of second period. Nice kid, but I couldn't teach him if he wasn't there. Despite numerous parent-teacher conferences, administrators' involvement and other interventions, he continued to rarely come to class and ultimately failed the course for exceeding the permitted number of unexcused absences and lack of submitted work.

    Anonymous: I don't see how you can fault a teacher for the performance a student who doesn't attend his class. It's give and take: Teachers have to teach, but students have to make the effort to learn.

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  67. Attorney DC -- fine. Maybe you can get an associate membership in the teachers' union where you live.

    I think the legions of parents in many school districts, taxpayers everywhere, and boards of education have had it with the too-clever unionist, pre-emptive defense of "teaching."

    Call it no-fuss, learning-free "education." Its anthem: we worked to rule; we just put it out there, and the kids, well, they just did not learn. Hell with 'em.

    Less work, no risk, more pay. Off it all on the kids. No need to wonder why teachers have sinking levels of respect, which is a pity, because they can really make a difference. But too many give up, or are just taught the wall of excuses from the beginning.

    I know teaching doesn't draw like it used to, mainly because of the workforce finally being largely open to women.

    But there's something about the current teaching generations that converges nicely with weaker students, more distractions, the persistence of inner-city poverty.

    Teachers have more real excuses than ever for the lack of learning and graduations. And they are using every one of those excuses. A real race to the bottom.

    You run a great blog, RE. See ya.

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  68. "You run a great blog, RE. See ya. "

    In other words, "I am not going to address your question:

    'You keep claiming that teachers should be held accountable for student performance.

    Please address how we can effectively do that when student achievement is as much (if not more) a function of student effort as teacher effort instead of continuing to say the same thing over and over again.'"

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  69. Student effort is a function of teacher performance. If the students are not exerting effort, then the teacher needs to reevaluate his/her instructional methods.

    As my mentor teacher once told me, "if the students aren't learning, then you aren't teaching."

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  70. Anon at 718: I'd say that's probably a good attitude for a teacher to have. However, when it comes to public opinion and the way it's often swayed to support inappropriate policy, the belief that student effort/achievement is solely the result of teacher performance (as you imply) definitely ignores certain realities.

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  71. Thanks for this post. I've always called this genre of book and movie "the educational romance" but it's only in my last few years of teaching that I've thought more about its impact. I loved Lou Anne Johnson's book when I first read it, but years later, after 18 years of teaching, I was only irritated by the Freedom Writer's movie. How dare we focus on one "super teacher" or another with a handful of students instead of finding ways to make every student's education better? Super teachers burn out or move on.

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