Monday, October 11, 2010

There is no doubt: students learn better from effective teachers. The
correlation is obvious and indisputable. How to determine
effectiveness, however, is an entirely different issue.

Test scores seem to be the natural go-to for determining
effectiveness. I agree that test scores can provide some information
about the process. However, test scores are dependent on many other
factors outside the teacher’s control. Test scores also are only one
tiny snapshot into a student’s performance. Unless there is some
accountability for the student on those tests, as well as the teacher,
the student’s performance may not be an accurate indicator of his true
abilities, or learning.

If test scores are to be used to determine teacher effectiveness,
there needs to be a parent and student accountability factor in focus
as well. I have had students who miss 60+ days of school in a year.
Teaching that child, preparing them for the ‘test’ is impossible. I
cannot possibly prepare that child, in one-third of the school year,
for scoring high enough on the next fall’s test to keep ME from
missing out on my merit pay. However, that child’s low score was
through no fault of my own.

Students in my classes come with a huge variety of skill sets, from 5
years below grade level, to well above grade level. Yet, I am expected
to meet each and every child’s individual needs, as each hour a bell
sends them on their way, and another group of skill sets come in the
door. During the course of the school day, teachers may see hundreds
of students, just for a glimpse of their life. We are expected to work
with each child and bring them along to the predetermined level of
achievement, regardless of what their incoming skill set was. These
children have other issues beyond academic problems as well. Many come
from home situations where school is not valued.

I have long believed that truly good teachers are born, not created.
Some people are naturally able to lead and teach. Others simply do not
have that ability.

There are several groups of teachers that I see in schools:

~The teacher who is great with kids, understands them, relates well to
them, but struggles to convey content.
This type of teacher can often
be mentored to become a more effective teacher by giving them
strategies to improve their pedagogical methods. Through deliberate
attempts to improve their teaching, these teachers can improve and
become great teachers.
~The teacher who is very efficient at the art of teaching, but rarely
makes a personal connection with their students.
This teacher will be
effective in the delivery of content, but will rarely inspire students
to excel beyond what is expected, or to become teachers themselves.
These teachers are acceptable to have on staff but should not make up
the majority of staff. Students do not feel comfortable or confident
in their classrooms.
~The teacher who struggles in all aspects of teaching. This teacher
does not have the natural ability to connect with their students on a
personal level and their pedagogical talents are absent as well. This
teacher, in my opinion, is hopeless. Nothing about their job comes
naturally. It is virtually impossible to create an effective teacher
in these cases.
~The naturally great teacher. This teacher relates well to students,
and in addition, has the natural knack for conveying expectations and
content, as well as inspiring students to reach beyond the
expectations to learn and create on their own. These are the teachers
students remember for years. These are the teachers who inspire future
generations of teachers.

The question then becomes, what do administrators do about teachers
who struggle in all aspects of teaching? At what cost do we mentor and
‘fix’ teachers with potential? How do we cultivate a culture that
encourages the best and brightest to become teachers? How do
universities determine who among their applicants are the best suited
to become teachers? Do we allow anyone who wants to teach a chance to
try? Do we ‘steer’ individuals with traits we as a educational
community deem desirable into teaching?

Would money fix the problem? No, but it could help. Many natural
teachers choose other career paths for financial reasons. If financial
incentives were in place to encourage teachers entering the
profession, as well as keeping them there once they are in the
classroom, perhaps classrooms would be filled with more effective

If part of the equation of determining the effectiveness of a teacher
is built upon their ability to build relationships with their
students, would financial incentives steer individuals who do not have
the intrinsic desire to teach to enter the profession?

It seems to me the place to begin the transition to filling every
classroom with a truly effective teacher rests on the idea of what an
effective teacher looks like. We, as an educational community, need to
clearly define what we need, what we expect and what is acceptable in
each classroom.

The second part of the transition needs to empower school
administrators with the ability to remove ineffective teachers from
the classroom easily. The process needs to be standardized and
simplified. Teachers deserve job security, yes, but not when that job
security is so entrenched it prevents administrators from being able
to openly observe, critique, and require struggling teachers to

Schools need to evolve into a new paradigm of what teaching and
learning look like. We need to provide an educational process that
meets each child where he comes to us, and takes them as far as they
can go. Built into that needs to be an acceptance of differences, and
allowances for exceptionalities must be in place. The current process
of expecting everyone to meet the same standards in the same time
frame is unreasonable and impossible. It eliminates the individuality
of the process and sets unrealistic expectations on struggling
students and overworked teachers.

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