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Great Teachers Cannot Be Made

Few would disagree that the most important in-school factor in student learning is the teacher.  But where the argument goes wrong is assuming that greatness can be achieved by improving schools of education ("Teaching the teachers," The Economist, Jun. 11). 

I say that because there is a distinct difference between good and great teachers.  Overhauling how college graduates are trained to become classroom teachers will make mediocre candidates better, but it won't make them outstanding.  And grit has little to do with the matter because I believe that great teachers are virtuosos who possess unique abilities that defy emulation.  We can study them all day long - as we have - but in the end we cannot ever duplicate their achievements.  The same can be said about schools of music or art.  If that were not so, then such schools would be producing Beethovens and Rembrandts, respectively.  They have not, and they never will.

What schools of education can - and must - do is to model themselves more after schools of medicine.  Med students are exposed to clinical situations early in their training.  They observe and are supervised.  There's an old saying in medical school:  "Do one; teach one."  That's how medical students learn the skills they need once they graduate.  Prospective teachers need to be immersed very early in their training to real classrooms, and try their hand at teaching even a partial lesson while under the guidance of a master teacher, who provides immediate feedback.

None of this will make candidates into great teachers.  But I believe it will help them become far better teachers than they would under the present antiquated system.

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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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