Boston's NPR station (WBUR) ran a series back in May on what makes a "good" teacher. I did not get to hear it on the radio at that time, but I'm slowly sifting through the articles they have on their website and they are certainly very interesting. (Check 'em out here.) Now that most teachers and kiddos are back in school, including me! (Am I a teacher, or a kiddo? - well, both and neither. I'm an adult in the school system as a School Pyschology practicum student, and a student in the classroom at NEU....and hopefully a yoga teacher in the schools, if everything works out - fingers crossed!) One way or another I am "back to school." (This is where I emit a longing sigh for summer, and then move on sadly.)
So the whole reason the discussion of what makes a Good Teacher began in the first place is because studies show that teacher quality is more important to student learning than other things, such as school size, or student-to-teacher ratio. This is good, because even in schools where classrooms are overflowing, we can be hopeful that the students are not automatically doomed to failure from being stuck in a large class. But how do we define "good" or "quality" teaching?
One proposed method to determine if a teacher is "effective" is to rate them based on their students' test scores on standardized state tests, such as the MCAS in Massachusetts. In accordance with the No Child Left Behind act, schools should be striving to "proficiency" in subjects like Language Arts and Math anyway. Other states, like Massachusetts, require passing scores on these tests in order to receive a high school diploma. So everyone is under a lot of pressure to do well on these tests anyway, and now we are going to stake a teacher's job on them, too?
I have to say, as a budding School Psychologist, I am very interested in making data-based decisions and monitoring progress. However, putting such VERY high stakes on a One-Shot-Test situation is really a terrible idea. Obviously, teachers need to be evaluated via multiple methods, just as students do before big decisions are made. I don't think that anyone is proposing that test scores be the ONLY method of assessing a teacher, but something about it makes me a little uneasy. In one of the articles, a teacher asks, "How do you put a number on how much you love the kids?" You don't, and yet it is something that may be the magic ingredient to the kids feeling respected and valued as people: Love. My dad, who was a public school teacher for over 30 years, always says that the way to reach any kid, especially the ones who people think are "un-reachable," is just to love them. So simple.
And yet, is that asking too much? I'm not sure we ask more of any other profession than we ask of teachers, as far as giving so much of themselves personally to their job. We want them to go above and beyond always...but isn't that what makes people exceptional? Going above and beyond? If everyone was going above and beyond, that would become the average, the expectation. And yet, we ask for it.
I sat in on a class today with a *phenomenal* teacher. She teaches in a small classroom with 7th and 8th grade students who have language based learning disabilities. She has a standing offer with each student in the class to take them to Barnes and Noble and help them pick out a book right then and there, to encourage them to read. Out of her own pocket. She really is amazing, and she clearly LOVES her kids. But can we really ask that of EVERY teacher?
What do you think? Do you have any stories of a teacher who went above and beyond for you?