Cast Iron Skillet

A blog about teaching, English, and teaching English

Greatness and Mediocrity

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I would like to add on to what Peter Greene wrote in a wonderful post on his Curmudgucation blog a couple months back, the “Myth of the Hero Teacher.

The successful district is not one with a hero teacher in every classroom. That’s a comic book. And in any case, even great teachers have bad days, bad months, bad years. If a hero teacher is the primary caretaker for an elderly parent with a long, slow decline, their heroism might be redirected. Getting divorced, having a child with cancer, suffering from depression can diminish greatness. A teacher might be great with some students but not others. Some teachers start out great, but burn out. Some teachers take a long time to become great.

If you have a school system in which students can only learn from the superhero teacher, what you have is a failing school system. You probably also have an unstable, unsafe community overwhelmed by the enormous societal problems in this country.

A great school district isn’t one with a great teacher in every room. A great school district is one in which mediocre students can learn from mediocre teachers. The great students will soar, the great teachers will inspire, but in a successful district, education will happen for pretty much everybody.

This does not in any way mean we should strive for mediocrity. Of course we should hire the very best people we can. And of course we should invest heavily in helping each teacher be the very best that they can be. And of course we should fire or counsel out the people who have no business being in the classroom. But even if you do all these things well, if your school district does not exist in a comic book or a movie, you will still end up with a range of teacher quality.

Education is a systemic endeavor, a community endeavor, a societal endeavor. The classroom is located within this context. It does not exist in some Marvel universe outside of the world and its problems.

The myth of the hero teacher is both a weapon and a smokescreen. It’s a handy club with which to beat teachers, and a distraction while reformers go about their real agenda: undermining school systems, weakening communities, and ignoring societal problems.

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