George Will rightly blasts contemporary teacher training in this Newsweek column. Will writes in part:
Many education schools discourage, even disqualify, prospective teachers who lack the correct "disposition," meaning those who do not embrace today's "progressive" political catechism. Karen Siegfried had a 3.75 grade-point average at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but after voicing conservative views, she was told by her education professors that she lacked the "professional disposition" teachers need. She is now studying to be an aviation technician.
In 2002 the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education declared that a "professional disposition" is "guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice." Regarding that last, the Chronicle reports that the University of Alabama's College of Education proclaims itself "committed to preparing individuals to"-what? "Read, write and reason"? No, "to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism," and to "break silences" about those things and "develop anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist community [sic] and alliances."
Brooklyn College, where a professor of education required her class on Language Literacy in Secondary Education to watch "Fahrenheit 9/11" before the 2004 election, says it educates teacher candidates about, among many other evils, "heterosexism." The University of Alaska Fairbanks, fluent with today's progressive patois, says that, given America's "caste-like system," teachers must be taught "how racial and cultural 'others' negotiate American school systems, and how they perform their identities." Got it?
Such schools are a joke, of course, or would be if the consequences of their politically correct fecklessness weren't so serious, but even so, even among sensible people much of the discussion about what makes a good teacher misses the point.
We tend to think that the problem with teachers is that they just don't know enough, but based upon 35 years of observing my colleagues in a public high school I submit that knowledge is only one aspect of what it takes to be a good teacher. Perhaps it should go without saying that the ability to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism," and to "break silences" about those things and "develop anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist community [sic] and alliances are not even on the list.
Here are the five most crucial attributes of quality teachers, listed in what I believe to be their order of importance:
1. Character: A teacher is a role model whether he/she wants to be or not. If a prospective teacher doesn't want to be a role model then that individual should seek out another career. The teacher needs to present an image to students of what a good man or woman should be. He or she must be someone any parent would want his or her child to emulate. This means, among other things, that they should be exemplary in their personal lives, have an outstanding work ethic, and strive for fairness and kindness in the classroom.
2. Desire: A quality teacher must have a strong motivation to do the best job he or she possibly can. Teachers must demonstrably love kids and enjoy being around them and they must be willing to do much more for students than what their contract obligates them to do. Teachers who are in and out with the bell send the message that they don't really enjoy what they're doing and that message detracts from their performance in the classroom in a host of subtle ways.
3. Personality: To be effective a teacher has to have a personality that students find appealing. A teacher need not, and, in fact, should not, seek to be the students' "friend," but should rather be the sort of person that students enjoy spending time with in class.
4. Discipline: A teacher who cannot maintain a good learning environment in his or her classroom is not going to be effective. All the character, desire, and personality in the world do not help a teacher teach if the classroom is in chaos.
5. Knowledge: Contrary to conventional wisdom, teachers need not come to the job with a lot of expertise, but to be a quality teacher he/she must be willing, indeed eager, to learn as much as possible, not just about the subject matter entrusted to them to convey, but about all sorts of things, just for the sake of learning them. The best teachers communicate a love of learning to their students, it enriches their classrooms and their students, and students will absorb much more if they perceive the teacher to truly love the material he's teaching. Students will be more likely to be infected themselves with a desire to learn because they sit in a classroom where knowledge and understanding are prized and where a contagious love of learning is pervasive.
The best teachers I have known excelled in each of these characteristics, and a young man or young woman who lacks any of these is going to be less effective as a teacher than he or she might otherwise be. The good news, however, is that all of these qualities, even #3, can be nurtured, developed, and improved as long as the will to do so is present.