One key concept (such as it is) of education ‘reform’ is that there are great teachers (or ‘Great Teachers’). There are obviously great teachers (hopefully, you remember a couple) along with their evil counterparts, ‘bad teachers.’ But the reality is, even if you had a great K-12 education, that most teachers simply did their jobs: you learned the material, and made it to the next level. Of course, there’s also the Lake Woebegone effect: by definition, most teachers can’t be Great Teachers. They can, however, be competent people who prepare you for what comes next.
Over at the Great Orange Satan, there is an interesting post about the myth of the great teacher (boldface mine):
What really gives me pause is all this talk about “really great teachers.” From the first grade through my courses in graduate school, I had some good teachers and I had some bad ones, but most were merely adequate, and it all pretty much averaged out. The worst teachers I ever had still provided me with textbooks, from which I gained enough knowledge to move on to the next grade. Maybe I had a really great teacher along the way, but given my limitations and laziness, it apparently did not make much difference. Mostly, it was up to me, one way or the other.
In other words, I smell a rat. The flip side of all this talk about the really great teacher is the villain of the piece: the really bad teacher, the ultimate cause of our failed education system, the high dropout rate, and the worthless diploma. Once these bad teachers have tenure, the story goes, it is all but impossible to dismiss them. From this follows the conclusion that we must get rid of tenure, and the teachers’ unions that insist on it, so that these impediments to a good education can be removed.
The post continues:
Now, I don’t know about you, but by the time I got to college, I could tell in the first week of class what kind of teacher I had. So, if there is any problem with incompetence, I suspect it could be rooted out within the first year or two. The fact that inferior teachers are not dismissed early on is due to the fact that this is not what the administrators really care about. They merely want the prerogative to fire old teachers when they start costing too much, regardless of competence. Can you imagine being 45 years old, having taught school for over twenty years, and suddenly being dismissed for inferior performance? What school system would hire you with that in your résumé?
Actually, about half of all teachers leave after five years, so I think the ‘rooting out’ problem largely takes care of itself (although not perfectly). Given the embrace by reformers of charter schools, which have an unsustainable business model (at least if you’re a teacher), this makes a great deal of sense.