Education … has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading. G. M. Trevelyan (1876-1962) British historian
Having observed newly minted teachers as well as highly experienced ones, I would like to attempt a description of what makes a good teacher; not great teachers, they stand apart from ordinary mortals and thus defy precise comparisons. Just good teachers, of whom a dearth exists unfortunately in these beautiful United States.
Made And Born
First of all, are they made or are they born to teach? Again, good ones are made with patience and practical experience, while great ones are clearly born to form and enlighten young minds. I remember as if it were yesterday all the mistakes I made in my first two years as a teacher; I was impatient, I didn’t listen properly to my students, and I didn’t take into account their personal circumstances. I was driven more by emotions than rational thinking. New teachers sometimes don’t understand that our job is not to cram data into juvenile heads, but to show them how to prepare for the unexpected, how to plan for the future, and how learning can change their lives for the better. Unfortunately, the recent emphasis on testing by NCLB has changed the picture; now, classroom teachers are accountable for the bottom line, i.e. the progress or lack of in state testing.
The testing frenzy, as evidenced by the enormous amount of time lost to prepare, train, and teach to the test, has discouraged a good number of would-be creative teachers; it is, however, attracting what I would baptize as bean counters, the potential instructors who are experts in stuffing young minds with endless data and dates, instead of teaching kids how to think, how to find the information they need. Gone is the higher order of thinking, gone is the drive to research and discover our wonderful world. “We don’t have time,” argue school principals, “we have to meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).”
One of the more important characteristics of a good teacher, one that is often overlooked, is his or her behavior in private life. They must be a shining example of good citizenship, of good parenting, and good neighbors. Do they read and keep updated on their subject, on education in general? Do they read my blog and initiate constructive discussions to prove me wrong? Alas, in my reduced academic universe, very few of my colleagues fit this ideal profile, very few bother to check my latest posts, or, for that matter, show an interest in educational trends.
According to a poll by NEA (National Educators Association), 71% of the general public trust teachers. Can any other profession claim the same? Doctors maybe? Certainly not lawyers or politicians, and yet they impact education the most. Do we accept new teachers based on their trustworthiness among other factors? Can we measure the trust factor? Well, a background check can certainly help, but how often is it effective and thorough? Some educators who got in trouble in one district for whatever reason simply apply in another and are, most of the time, accepted. Shouldn’t we make sure that dangerous teachers never set foot in a classroom again?
A final word of caution, unrelated to this particular topic: Let’s vote for the people who will defend public education, not for the ones who want to replace it with vouchers. Poor people and special education kids cannot afford vouchers; they cost too much and I have yet to find a charter school that accepts children with special needs.