Thursday, August 7, 2014

Can All Teachers Be Great? Is Great Teaching a Teachable Skill?

How many truly inspirational people are there in the world? Enough to fill the nation's classrooms?

Those questions are at the heart of the discussion of education reform as countless people - not the least of which are President Obama and Ed Sec Arne Duncan - set a simple goal of putting a "great teacher" in every classroom. So, the question becomes: "Are great teachers born or made?" Writer and critic Nick Romeo asks this question in response to a new book which claims that great teaching is a simple matter of certain identifiable and teachable skills and tasks. Great teachers do certain things that can be modeled and packaged and voila - a Great Teacher in every classroom.

The foundation of this idealistic view is found in Elizabeth Green's new book, Building a Better Teacher, which implies that society - and education schools - can do exactly that. Green, who is a veteran education writer and editor of Chalkbeat, crafts her message around numerous anecdotes and profiles of "great teachers" who offer countless analogies for what effective teaching looks like. It certainly is a noble undertaking to research and document all these examples of greatness. Though packaging it as a series of practices that can simply be emulated deserves scrutiny. That critical eye is the point of Nick Romeo who logically argues that some people are simply better students who would, thus, be better at applying the seemingly foolproof keys to effective teaching that Green offers.

Ultimately, just like athletes who can all learn the skills, teachers will achieve varying levels of "greatness." And the question becomes whether it is acceptable to be average or adequate in the classroom. Certainly, once we know about great teachers, we would never want our children taught by someone who is simply OK. Thus, not being "great" becomes a matter of being "a bad teacher." And, like all popular critics who seek greatly oversimplified answers to incredibly complex questions, Whoopi Goldberg simply wants to "get rid of the bad teachers." Which is so helpful. Thanks, Whoopi. Because apparently some people want to keep the bad teachers. Right?

Ultimately, the concept of great teaching is like great art - we know it when we see it. And just because we can create a paint by numbers version of the Mona Lisa doesn't mean that we can all be Da Vinci.

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