The retirement of baby boomers creates a unique opportunity to examine our expectations for the next generation of teachers. Although so much has already been written about this subject, it never ceases to amaze me how unrealistic we are about teacher turnover (" 'What Is Good Teaching?' " The New York Times, Dec. 17).
Reformers seem to believe that schools of education are at fault for not graduating new teachers who can hit the ground running. They claim that teachers are ill prepared because they possess insufficient knowledge of their subject matter and because they lack skills in classroom management. It's the latter, however, that is now getting the greatest attention ("Training our future teachers," National Council on Teacher Quality, Dec.) I wonder, however, if any school of education can possibly teach classroom survival, let alone excellence.
Whether in an affluent suburban district or in an impoverished district, there is no surefire formula for success in classroom management. What works well in one school may not work well in another. There are too many variables. Public schools are unique in that they must enroll by law virtually all who show up at the schoolhouse door. There is no screening device, as in private and religious schools, and there are restrictions on expelling students.
I don't see how it's possible to prepare teacher candidates under these conditions. Principles of effective classroom management sound great on paper, but I can assure reformers that they are not nearly as valuable as assumed. Some teachers ignore them, and yet they produce amazing results. The converse is true as well. So much depends on the chemistry between teachers and their students.
As the latest NCTQ report correctly emphasized: "While better instruction generally results in better behaved students, the most brilliantly crafted lesson can fall on deaf ears - or, worse, be upended by disruptive behavior."