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Good Teachers Are Good Enough

Everyone agrees that teachers are the most important in-school factor in student learning. But how realistic is it to try to recruit great teachers to the nation's 98,000 public schools that serve 48.2 million students ("Are Great Teachers Born or Made?" Teachers College Record, Oct. 28)? 

I submit that trying to recruit and retain good teachers should be our goal.  There are 3.2 million public-school teachers.  This sheer number alone makes the search for great teachers a quixotic task. I do not believe that quality and quantity can exist simultaneously.  If my view is correct, then far more attention needs to be paid on pre-screening teacher candidates.  Doing so would help college graduates determine if they are suited for public-school classrooms.  

If they decide that they are, then the next step should be to provide them with appropriate training. No professional in any field becomes highly qualified based solely on what is learned in the classroom.  There has to be exposure to real-life situations.  The same holds true for teaching.  Love of children, desire to make a difference and other platitudes are hardly sufficient preparation.  

Consider the issue of classroom management, or what is usually referred to as dealing with defiant students.  There is nothing I learned in working on my California teaching credential that made me feel capable of handling such students. Just as some medical students have an innate bedside manner, so too do some teachers have an innate ability to command the respect of their students regardless of their background.  But once again, these are outliers.  The vast majority of teacher candidates will have to learn on their own what works best for them.

If we can produce new teachers who are merely good in this area or in subject-matter instruction, then we should consider ourselves successful.  Let's not throw in the towel because we have not produced new teachers who are truly worthy of the term "great."

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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