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Subversive Teaching

Been There, Done That

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No Teacher Left Standing
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Telling is Not Teaching
Been There, Done That
Why They Turn in Garbage
If You Teach Them They Will Learn
Teaching Well is the Best Revenge

For years I budgeted $1500 annually for air conditioner maintenance and/or replacement, because my AC broke down every summer without fail. Not only that, but twice the air conditioner service people themselves caused the AC to flood, and twice the ceiling of the room underneath collapsed. The one constant was that the condenser made this loud screeching noise whenever it cut on. Nobody could figure out why it was doing this; some tried to convince us it was perfectly normal, but we weren't buying it.

This summer we called someone from yet another company to come and do an AC checkup. When he heard the squealing, he immediately knew what it was -- too much freon, which, he said, could blow out the entire condenser (and most likely already had a couple of times).

And this is what that serviceman said: "If you had not already seen this before, you would never figure out what it was." It just so happened that this man had been doing this a long time, and he had seen it before -- he'd seen everything before. Fifteen minutes and $90 later, the AC was fixed. The difference between this man and all those that had preceded him was this: he had seen it all before.

That's how teaching is. There are some things -- quite a lot, actually -- that you just have to have seen before. And that takes time.

This concept is lost on the public, most of whom think that even though teaching is difficult, and they wouldn't want to do it, anyone who has sat in a classroom for 12 years would be perfectly capable of doing it. Alone of professions, teaching is conceived of as something that does not improve with experience. There is not much to be learned from doing it, so additional years add little to the practitioner's level of expertise.

Apparently now this is also lost on legislators and administrators, who have discovered to their delight that it is not only unnecessary to hire more expensive, experienced teachers instead of inexperienced ones, but even unnecessary to hire ones who have any training or experience whatsoever.

The untrained teachers are not only cheaper, but younger, and since experience is presumably of less value than the boundless energy and enthusiasm of youth, why not get the most bang for one's buck?

Apparently the stores of energy and enthusiasm are not as boundless as thought, however, since about 20% of new teachers leave after the first year (and some sooner), and uncertified ones at an even higher rate. Half are gone in five years. The costs of this turnover can be staggering to a district. The old, worn out, experienced teachers keep plugging away year after year, though. And their test scores are better.

I don't think you can be a good teacher without inborn talent for it -- this is why so many new teachers are so good. But like any other profession -- or art -- talent alone will not get you far. Teaching is an extremely complex and demanding job. Anyone requiring proof of this need only drop into the classroom of someone doing it poorly, a thoroughly horrifying and deeply depressing experience, especially when children are involved. Doing it well takes study and practice, practice, practice. That takes time, and time is what makes a good teacher into a great one.

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