Education Letter to the Editor

Great Teaching Is More Than ‘Magic’

March 30, 2010 1 min read

To the Editor:

I must take exception to James D. Starkey’s recent Commentary “Attention, Gates Foundation” (Feb. 3, 2010). His charge against the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its willingness to commit $45 million to researching measures of effective teaching is unwarranted.

Moreover, the 10 qualities of a great teacher listed by Mr. Starkey are ineffective for defining, identifying, or developing such teachers. Is possessing more of these qualities better? Striving for “listens well” and “is articulate” would be a good thing, but what about “has an obsessive/compulsive side,” “can be subversive,” and “is a real taskmaster”?

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has provided a concise list of the characteristics of an effective teacher. Even these, however, are based more on observation than on research. The larger question is, with graduation rates in some major cities at less than 50 percent, why are these identified skills not being used to guide policy and the hiring—and firing—of teachers?

Great teaching is not magic, as Mr. Starkey says. Great teachers must be identified and mentored. It would be prudent for the education community to seek the results of sound research and move toward an operative definition of teacher effectiveness. Quantifying—rather than qualifying—teacher expertise would allow the field to objectively identify great teachers. Fresh research conducted by noneducators may be just what we need to illuminate what constitutes best practice.

Until the profession is examined and analyzed in the light of significant, research-based data, the U.S. education system will remain in crisis. Bill and Melinda Gates: Go for it!

Janice M. Guthrie

Science Department Chair

Southfield Christian School

Southfield, Mich.

A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 2010 edition of Education Week as Great Teaching Is More Than ‘Magic’