Education Opinion

Great Teachers Are Virtuosos

By Walt Gardner — May 06, 2013 1 min read
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No one denies that teachers are the most important in-school factor in student learning. But in their quest to recruit and retain the best and brightest candidates, reformers need to be realistic. Unfortunately, David Greene fails to understand that great teachers are virtuosos (“The Art of Teaching,” The New York Times, May 5).

As in all other fields, virtuosos possess gifts that can be identified but not duplicated. If that were not the case, schools of music would produce Mozarts, and schools of drama would graduate Brandos. But they don’t. Nevertheless, these schools are curiously spared the criticism leveled at schools of education. The double standard is particularly troubling today because of the high stakes involved. It’s also one of the reasons that teachers are demoralized.

I think it’s far more reasonable to seek college graduates who will be effective in the classroom. Let’s not forget that one million new teachers will be needed by 2016 as baby boomers retire, according to the Obama administration. How likely is it that even the most thorough search and systematic training will produce great teachers to take their places? As W. James Popham makes clear in his new book, there is something in the personalities of a few teachers that allows them to violate every principle of effective instruction and still get remarkable results with their students (Evaluating America’s Teachers, Corwin, 2013).

I’m not saying that we should give up trying to make classroom instruction memorable. On the contrary. But there is a distinct difference between greatness and effectiveness. Refusing to make the distinction will result in frustration and anger on the part of all stakeholders. For the few great teachers - and they do exist - Clark County, Nev. wants to pay them an annual salary of $200,000 (“Proposal for ‘master teachers’ with $200K annual salary has its skeptics - among teachers,” Las Vegas Sun, May 3). It calls these teachers “master teachers.” I applaud the proposal, provided it is based on evidence.

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.