The start of the fall semester will once again highlight the difficulty of getting the best teachers to teach in inner-city schools (“What Teacher Attributes Are Necessary to Succeed in High-Poverty Schools?” Teacher Leaders Network, Aug. 5). Even if they agree to accept an assignment in these schools, it’s unlikely they will remain for very long.
The question is why this problem exists. It’s not a matter of the failure of schools of education to prepare teachers because I don’t think any program can do very much in that regard. I say that because the teachers who commit to teaching in such schools possess certain qualities that are not teachable. Their SAT scores, GPAs, and references have very little, if any, predictive power.
What is most important for these teachers is the ability to put themselves in the shoes of their students and to relate to them. They can then design lessons to meet their needs and interests. The trouble is that not all otherwise excellent teachers have the personality to undergo the necessary transformation.
I’ve written before how hard it was for me to change my instruction when the students in the high school where I taught for my entire 28-year career underwent a dramatic change. It was certainly not for lack of trying. But I took for granted that these students would bring to class the same readiness to learn as the students I had taught in the past. It was a colossal miscalculation. Their backgrounds were the antithesis of those of the students I had before.
Looking back, I wonder how possible it is to know one’s audience. Can teachers ever fully understand the factors that have shaped their students? Cultural differences alone make this a daunting task. Yet teachers today are increasingly asked to teach classes filled with students from diverse cultures and income. If effort alone were enough for success, then maybe more teachers would be inclined to teach in inner-city schools. But effort doesn’t count. Reformers demand results in the form of hard data.
I take my hat off to all teachers who willingly take a position in these schools. I readily admit that I couldn’t do nearly as well as they do under the circumstances.
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.