Guest post: Bernie Keller

UnknownRecently, a Time Magazine article spoke to the issue of education and its reforms. The article suggested that a large part of the solution lies in taking teachers from the “top third” of the college graduates to become teachers. Here’s a great question for those who advocate this proposal, “Who are the teachers you remember from your educational career?” In what third of the class were they found? Not only am I confident they would not be able be able to tell me whether or not they were in the top third, I’m sure they would be unable to tell me what third they were in at all! Despite this, they still identified those teachers as the teachers they remember best, and I’d argue they remember those teachers because they learned in those teachers’ classes.

Here’s another question for you. How can you attract the top third of any one to a vitriolic, acrimonious, flat out disrespectful and insulting treatment of teachers and the unwillingness to pay top third money? I used to tell my students, “You can’t buy a Rolls Royce with Volkswagen money.” The saying means if you want something, you have to pay whatever that thing costs. You can’t get a quality car, like a Rolls Royce if you are unwilling to pay for it. The same is true about getting quality teachers. Quality costs. If you are unwilling to pay that cost, how can you expect to attract that level of quality?

Finally, how can you tell just from the third someone is in how good he/she will actually be?


Don Mattingly, one of the best players in the major leagues during the eighties and early nineties, was drafted #500. That means 499 players were chosen in front of him. Clearly, he was not in the top third.


UnknownPete Rose wasn’t even drafted. When he was signed to a professional contract as a favor to his father, he was sent to Class D in the minor leagues. Considering Class D is the lowest class in the minor leagues, he certainly was in the top third.

imagesWho would have thought Phil Jackson, considered by many to be one of the greatest coaches of all time in the NBA, would even have become a decent basketball player. In those days when I watched him come off the bench all elbows and shoulders, he certainly was not in the top third of the players in the NBA. Hell, he probably wasn’t in the top third of the players on his own team!


Finally, let’s consider Lewis Latimer- you know, the guy who assisted Bell to invent the telephone and introduced the filament to the light bulb that would allow the bulb to burn longer than the filaments Edison, “the inventor of the light bulb”, was using – he was born to former slaves, was one of ten or eleven children and couldn’t attend school because he was Black. I think it’s fair to say he was not in the top third, either.

These examples, and I dare say millions of others, speak to the problem of just looking to the top third to find the best teachers. In fact, anyone who has ever been a student, or taught, or coached knows that simply because one has talent or superior knowledge that is no guarantee of success, that just like the people mentioned in this essay, and the millions of others just like them who are anonymous but who have nevertheless succeeded despite not finding themselves in the top third, you really never know where you will find a great teacher, coach, athlete, parent, student or person, so it might be wise not to “disqualify” anyone or to leave anyone out.