Great Teachers Myth
In the current Atlantic, Amanda Ripley offers this summary of an exhaustive report from Teach for America:
Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.
While the focus on the report is on teaching other teachers how to replicate the success of the superstars, what this tells me (or, actually, reconfirms) is that superstar teaching is an unrealistic, unsustainable goal.
Recall the story of Erin Gruwell, the real life teacher upon whose experience the Hilary Swank character in Freedom Writers is based. She basically worked 20 hours a day, spent large amounts of her meager salary buying things for her students, and in the process destroyed her marriage. After one year, she insisted upon being elevated to the next grade so that she could teach the same students again. She did this until said kids graduated high school, followed them to college, and then quit teaching altogether.
Greatness of that sort can be maintained for a very short period, after which burnout is inevitable.
There are plenty of very good teachers, of course, who manage to make the curriculum interesting for the students and motivate them to learn. But not a lot of miracle workers who can take dozens of students from broken homes and an environment that does not value learning and turn them around year after year after year.
via Tyler Cowen