August 13, 2011

Misconceptions of greatness

Newbie teachers are so quick to give veterans the "great teacher" label. They often hand it out as thoughtlessly as doctors, passing out stickers to toddlers after their yearly well visits.

A new teacher, whom I'm very close to, is preparing for her second year in the profession. In a recent conversation, she told me how she was getting ready for the school year.

Will a worksheet engage this student?

She received help from someone who just retired from her school. "He's a great teacher," she announced enthusiastically. "He gave me all his old worksheets and tests." Now, she explained, things would be easy, as she would have less activity preparation and lesson planning.

Because she means so much to me, I was devastated to learn that she believes that someone who uses worksheets and tests is a "great teacher." I must assume that she will bury her students with these decades-old worksheets and bombard them with boring, useless multiple-choice tests. After all, most young teachers want to emulate greatness. This is what they learn. Education professors and new teacher mentors teach the strategy: find a great teacher and do what she does.

The problem with this is twofold. One, there are very few truly great teachers. Two, this monkey-see-monkey-do approach does not lend itself to self-evaluation, research and discovery. These are the tools of great teachers -- not worksheets and tests.

I wanted so badly to look at this young teacher and say,"Please don't be that teacher. He is not great."

I wanted to tell her that I know that she can be so much better, but a  so-called great teacher had already influenced her far more with his worksheets and tests, than I could with mere words.

With great regret, I realized that her misconception of greatness may keep her from ever reaching it.