I don’t know any incompetent teachers.
You may scoff. “Of course not, Andrew. You’re in a wealthy boarding school. They wouldn’t tolerate incompetent teachers for very long.” And yes, I suppose that’s true. But I still don’t know any incompetent teachers.
And I bet that you don’t, either. I don’t care how impoverished or broken down your school is. I’d guess that there aren’t any genuinely incompetent teachers in that school of yours.
On my late-March trip down to DC with a group of kids, we shared the train with an exuberant group of middle schoolers from a mostly-black urban school in Hartford. They were awesome. It was clear that they’d worked hard to pull together enough cash to go on this trip to the capital; for most of them it was the farthest they’d been from home in their lives. They did it on a shoestring budget, much more lean than the $800 a kid I’d had to work with. Car washes, bake sales, incredible wrangling every step of the way.
On the way home, one or two teachers rounded up everyone and made them get out ire worksheets. They turned the train car into an impromptu classroom. And my students, my colleague and I listened in astonishment and mild horror as the teacher read out a list of around 100 questions about Washington, DC monuments, architecture, and trivia.
No questions about Congress, or the Supreme Court, or the presidency. It was all “how high is the Washington monument?” and “when were the cherry trees planted round the Tidal Basin?” my colleague and I listened to the groans and dismay as it became clear that this was a marathon trivia search for kids, and most of them had no idea what the answers were.
And of course you’re thinking, “that’s an incompetent teacher right there! She’s one! Exhibit A! Look with your eyes open, kid!”
Oh. But hold on.
This teacher was not one of the lead organizers, from what I understood. Yet she felt she needed to contribute something to this trip. She found a niche for herself. She found a website with a bunch of questions about DC, and she was going to quiz the kids on them on the train ride home. She was going to turn a crowded train car at the end of a weeklong field trip into a mobile classroom for an hour.
And the questions she picked? It turns out they were from the employment opportunities side of the website of a company that runs student tours of Washington, DC. These were the questions that guides were supposed to have the answers for at the tips of their tongues.
That’s standards-based education right there. Want a job as a DC tour guide? Know the city inside out from the level of trivia on up.
If I think through the teachers in my school, doing each and every one of them justice, and not just giving the pass to the ones I like, I have to admit that I respect them all. Some of them are passionate, others phlegmatic, others angry, others dull and dry. Some are lax, some are rigorous, some are easy-going, some are hard-asses. Some are misinformed, or mean, or blind to kids’ machinations or weaknesses, or poor disciplinarians.
But none of them — not one — is incompetent.
This is way too hard a job for the incompetent. They leave midyear. They bow out at the end of the year, with little fuss. They stick it out for a year or two and then vanish. A few really horrible ones abuse their students or have sex with them, get arrested and vanish after the media circus. And we who stay in the profession forget their names, forget their faces… forget that they were ever here.
We remember the ones who stick it out.
So no. I don’t know any incompetent teachers. And neither do you. If a reporter you trusted came to you, and insisted you provide her with a name, just one, only one, incompetent teacher that should be fired — I bet you can’t think of someone, anyone, who is so awful that they should pilloried on the front page of the local paper as the Worst Teacher In The World.