To the Editor:
Teaching can be perceived as a profession or as a craft (“Taking the Measure of Teacher Education,” Commentary, Oct. 11, 2006). But it can also be seen as an art. In fact, teachers who leave the most indelible imprint on their students fall into this third camp.
The careers of Frank McCourt, Pat Conroy, and Jaime Escalante suggest they were essentially virtuosos whose success was the result of factors that cannot be taught or learned. Teacher Man, The Water Is Wide, and the film “Stand and Deliver,” respectively, reveal the degree to which this observation is true. In all three cases, they violated principles of effective instruction and yet managed to achieve remarkable results.
All of which leads to a cautionary lesson: Whatever research exists about instruction is essentially “tendency” research. Teachers who follow the prescriptions tend to be effective. But there is a big difference between inspired teaching and effective teaching that is being overlooked in the current debate. That’s a loss for all stakeholders at a time when so much is on the line.
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Teaching’s Art Cannot Be Taught or Learned