Monday, November 22, 2010

Poor Teaching: What Is It Exactly?

Both Arne Duncan and Bill Gates seem to agree: an important cause of student failure is poor teaching.

Some advocate higher education for teacher candidates. Does this make sense considering that Ph.D.’s don’t seem to make university professors better teachers?

Bill Gates, as well as Arne Duncan, doesn’t think teachers should get bonuses just for getting higher degrees. Such bonuses, comments Gates, “don’t help kids.” But will kids be helped if the incentive of such a bonus, when removed, dissuades people from going into education in the first place? The dropout rate of teachers, even given the bonus, is high enough to vacate the profession in six years.

What is a poor teacher? Was it my 10 Grade English teacher who failed us mercilessly for minor, academically unrelated infractions? Or was it my 10th-12th Grade Spanish teacher who never tested us and gave us A’s for chatting amiably with her?

Many an elite private school has poor teachers; boring, daydreaming, off-topic chatterboxes. But there is little complaint so long as the kids get acceptable grades.

But there are many cases in public schools where teachers tried to enforce standards and were penalized by administrators as “poor teachers” when parents complained. (See postings on this blog on Plagiarism or Cheating, for example.)

As a private-school headmaster, I refused to renew the contracts of persons I considered to be poor teachers. (Members of my governing board were irate: after all, these teachers were such "nice people" and gave free tutoring to the board members' own kids!)

As a public school teacher I have seen zombies, ignorant, inarticulate, scared stiff, unresponsive, standing in front of classrooms – zombies certified by major universities to be worthy of teaching credentials.

But sometimes “poor quality teaching” is really (Dare we name the elephant in the room?!) a matter of “poor quality students.”

To examine these issues further, see Highly Educated Teachers: is this what we need?

--- EGR