Swickard: Good teaching is rare in our schools

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. The most important question in education: what is good teaching? Perhaps defining good teaching is impossible, but we know good teaching when we see it. On the other hand many celebrated teachers may not know how to teach but are great at educational politics.
       Example: what many “Good” teachers are good at is playing political games in their school. They know how to play the games and therefore their students get good scores on tests regardless of how the students get their scores or even if the scores reflect their student’s abilities.
     These “Good” teachers are high achievers who make their schools look good. They are given awards while other teachers go about the teaching with no hoopla at all. One of my former students went through the cumulative folders for her incoming class and found they were on grade level.
     But when the kids came into her class they had forgotten everything. She struggled all year. In March of that year the mystery was solved. She told me, “When I gave them the end of year tests they said, ‘Miss, aren't you going to give us the answers like the teacher did last year?’”
     The best way to get at great teaching is to say what it is not. First, it is not mean. There is a notion that rigor is good so the harder the teachers are on the students, the more the students will thank them in their prayers. Not so. It seems to me that some of the mean teachers are mentally unbalanced and prey upon students.
     A former student wrote that one of her kids came to school very sad. Her grandfather had died suddenly the day before. The class was scheduled for an accountability test that day. My former student contacted the office and said that this student could not take the test.
     The principal came fluttering into the classroom at the notion of a student not taking the test and said, “We need you to take this test.” The girl, with tears running down her face said, “My grandpa died yesterday.” The principal looked mad and said, “You have to take this test” and stomped off.
     My former student’s coworkers said she must sit the student with a test. Instead my former student took her student to the library and let her sit with the librarian and hold a stuffed toy. She did get in trouble.
     At the end of the year this former student quit education, saying she would not hurt children regardless of politics and pressures. It is best she left public education since there is no room in the field for someone who realizes a child who lost a loved one the day before is not in proper condition to do accountability tests.Read full column