My husband reads The Economist religiously. I only picked it up because of the cover story on the June 11th-17th issue: How to Make a Good Teacher. A statement, not a question. While I wasn't overly impressed or offended by anything in the article, one paragraph stood out:
"The New Teacher Project suggest that after the burst of improvement at the start of their careers teachers rarely get a great deal better. This may, in part, be because they do not know they need to get better. Three out of five low-performing teachers in America think they are doing a great job." © The Economist Newspaper Ltd, London June 11th-17th, 2016
Ouch. I'm going to take their word for it that there's evidence to back up the "low-performing" teacher part (that isn't solely based on standardized test scores), but damn. Three-fifths of bad teachers think they are great? How? How does that even happen? What areas of education allow for teachers to become this unknowingly delusional? I think I know of at least a few contributing factors:
1. Hatred of Professional Development. Don't get me wrong; I've seen PD abused and misused many times in my 10-year teaching career. District-mandated PD has often left a sour taste in my mouth when it seems tone deaf or irrelevant to the needs of our staff and students. But I worry that the seemingly-universal hatred of PD makes teachers think they don't need professional learning beyond their original licensure. Maybe a disconnect between quality teachers and the ones who think they are is the willingness to seek out personal PD, and the ability to recognize the need for it. It's a harsh truth to look at yourself as a teacher and realize that you need help beyond what your school, Twitter feed, and Pinterest board can provide. The good teachers don't view professional development as a chore or a hoop to jump through to earn licensure credits; they do it because they know students benefit when they have teachers who are continual learners.
2. We are too isolated. This varies wildly depending on district and administration, but I think it's safe to say that many teachers can spend much of their day without supervision. My principal is excellent at doing random walk-throughs and regular in-depth observations, but that is his standard, not something he's forced to do. In my early years, when I wasn't a good teacher, it used to drive me nuts when the door opened and he walked in unannounced. I always did well during planned observations, but the walk-throughs made me panicked, like he was trying to find something wrong. What I didn't necessarily realize then was that the panic came from knowing deep down that I wasn't that great of a teacher. There was too much dead time in my class periods, there wasn't enough of a guiding purpose to my lessons, I wasn't living up to what I'm capable of when interacting with students; the list could go on. Now that I've put the time and effort into constant reflection and refinement of my teaching practice, I don't despise the walk-throughs anymore. I love them. I put my principal in the hot seat and try to get him to stay in my room as long as possible. Having more observations forces teachers to reflect on their practice even if they aren't inclined to do so of their own free will. My district will start its TLC program this year, which will increase our number of teacher-on-teacher observations (we currently only do this for new teachers). It's an exciting change, and one that probably has some people feeling uncomfortable. Good. Teachers grow when we are outside our comfort zones, not with the doors shut.
3. It's easier to blame the kids. This. This is the thing that kills me. How often have I been in conversation with teachers when everything comes back to how the students wouldn't/didn't/couldn't and it was all the kids' fault? This happens weekly in schools, if not daily. I am guilty of this. Every teacher, at some point, has probably been guilty of this mindset. And it is so wrong. If only three kids in a class of twenty-five understand something, which scenario is more likely: twenty-two kids intentionally chose not to learn, or one adult didn't do a good enough job of teaching the material? And to those who would argue and say that it's highly likely in their school, with their students, that twenty-two of them would choose not to learn: then what are you doing to change that as a teacher? Thinking that you are a great teacher when the glaring evidence of student performance is staring you in the face is educational malpractice. It's not always them; it's you. Do something about it.
What do these three areas have in common? The need for more reflection. The need for more honest to goodness soul searching as teachers. Maybe even something as simple as waking up every day and asking What can I do to be a better educator today? and then actually taking the steps required to make that happen. How many teachers do that on their own? I bet we'd find the quality teachers if we asked.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.