-Bernie Keller

IMG_0268As the experts assess the needs of the educational system and come up with “the solutions”, one solution that displays very little thought is the “great teacher” solution. The people who operate the Department of Education in New York City, (a department “recognized” for its innovative and leading changes in the field of education by organizations I have never heard of), have decided that one of the best ways to improve the educational system of New York City, is to recruit great teachers.

That may be a great solution if you can go to some school or place that has a bunch of great teachers just waiting to be picked like fruits off a tree. Perhaps these people know of some place like a supermarket for great teachers, where you can just go and pick them up like you pick cans up off a shelf. If these ideas sound ludicrous, it’s because they are ludicrous. The idea that you can just “recruit” or “pick up” a great teacher is as inane a thought as saying that you can just go to a park and “pick up” a Derek Jeter or a LeBron James.

Great teachers get it; they understand that when you get into teaching you are in it for the long haul. They understand that teaching is a “long time “ proposition, not a layover or a pit stop until you get your chance to go to med school or law school, or get your MBA. They understand this not something you just do because you can’t get a job in your profession or they downsized your company, or because working in a school will reduce your loan repayment. Great teachers understand they will have to make a commitment to be great, that they will have to work at being great, and that it will be hard work. They do not “sign on” to make a lot of money, to be feted or to receive awards.

Great teachers get it. They understand that teaching is a craft and crafts take time to hone and perfect. They understand you will not simply walk out of a college classroom or out of a corporate boardroom or “teaching institute” to step into a school’s classroom as a great teacher. They understand that greatness is a punctilious taskmaster. Great teachers realize that it takes time to learn what works, what doesn’t work and what has to be repackaged. Great teachers battle year after year, fighting their way through ennui and burnout. They work their way through every new administration and “innovative” theory to help learning to take place. They understand that becoming a great teacher is a process – it has a beginning, a middle and an end and that you don’t just start and step into the end of that process.

Great teachers aren’t recruited, they are developed and that development takes time. They recognize being a great teacher has little or nothing to do with numbers or some magical, mystical occurrence. If being a great teacher is as simple as having great numbers, one can have great numbers, but will those numbers make a great teacher? Will those numbers ensure that those students have learned anything?

A great teacher does much more than work in a classroom and teach or just try to get “numbers.” In and of themselves, numbers are not important in anything. Even in sports, a player with great numbers is not considered a great player unless his/her numbers can translate into wins and/or championships for his/her teams.

Great teachers understand the vacuous, void numbers represent. Great teachers recognize and understand that true teaching goes far beyond the teaching the theme of “Hamlet” or the division of fractions, and that it goes beyond getting students to pass tests in school. Great teaching gets them to pass the biggest test of all, the ability to survive, to succeed, and to live a fulfilling life after all of the tests given in school are over.

That preparation cannot be measured in percentages or test grades. Great teachers bridge the gap between what must be taught in school and what is needed to succeed after all the tests have been taken and passed. Great teachers do not measure themselves by percentages and test grades, they measure themselves in lives, by the lives they change, and when they get a little lucky, by the lives they save.

The idea that every teacher can be a great teacher makes no logical sense. By definition what makes a person, or event great is that it is special or different from those people or things who/that are “normal”. In fact, if every teacher were great, being great would be the norm, which would mean that no one would be great! This idea also strikes at the heart of the proposal to “measure” teacher success or greatness by using test scores. Test scores are not produced solely as a result of a teacher’s greatness or ineptitude. A major portion of test scores is about what students do or don’t do.

Teaching is “alive.” If it’s done right, it has passion, it grows, it engages, challenges and inspires. It does not merely allow for diplomas, test scores or a graduation rate. It changes lives and helps those lives survive after they have left the warm and fuzzy confines of the world of school.