I am becoming more and more distressed by the conversations I am seeing in the national media that blame “bad” teachers for all the ills in society. Take Newsweek’s March cover that claimed that the key to saving American education was to “fire bad teachers.” Not only do these messages misappropriate blame and over-simplify the very complex problems we face in schools, they unintentially kill good teaching.
Case in point. The other day I was helping a teacher rethink how she planned her lessons. We were working on creating more engaging, rigorous learning experiences for students. After I explained how to create spaces in the classroom to allow her students to learn how to deal with the messiness of learning, she said, “This is great Robyn, but what do I do when my principal walks in and sees all this messiness going on. I could lose my job!” Unfortunately, I hear the same lament time and time again. I would love to teach this way, but …my principal, the state tests, the curriculum, my district mandate, the parents, etc.
To quote Seth Godin in his latest book Linchpin, “Great teachers are wonderful. They change lives. We need them. The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organized to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them, and make them average.”
There are several reasons why schools don’t work, but firing the bad teachers won’t fix them, especially when the same systems that prevent really great teaching remain firmly in place.
So what do we do? For starters, we have to stop teaching scared. We have to stop letting fear keep us from doing what’s right and take the risk for the sake of our kids. We have to do what master teachers have been doing for years — ignore the distracting noise outside, close your door, and teach extraordinarily. We have to stop conforming and doing what is safe. Instead, we must dare to be good, really good, not at our jobs, but at our calling to help students become great learners. And most of all, we have to fight every day to get better at what we do, not because of some mandate or because we are afraid of being labeled a “bad teacher” and end up on the cover of Newsweek, but because it is the right and best thing to do. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to ourselves.