P. L. Thomas: The Myth of the Bad Teacher: 2023
Paul Thomas tracks the myth of the bad teacher, last peaking around 2010, and now being trotted out again as an indictment, among other things, of those teachers who are totally teaching reading all the wrong way.
For most of the history of US education, student reading achievement has been described as “failing,” and vulnerable student populations (minoritized races, impoverished students, students with special needs such as dyslexia, and MLLs) have always been underserved.
The dirty little secret about teacher quality related to student reading proficiency is that those vulnerable students are disproportionately sitting in class with early-career and uncertified teachers who are struggling with high student/teacher ratios.
Are students being underserved? Yes, but this is a historical fact of US public education not a current crisis.
Are low student achievement and reading proficiency the result of bad teachers? No, but these outcomes are definitely correlated with bad teaching/learning conditions and bad living conditions for far too many students.
In 2023, just as in 2010, the myth of the bad teacher is a lie, a political and marketing lie that will never serve the needs of students, teachers, or society.
Way back in 1984 when I entered the classroom, I was excited to begin my career but quickly discovered that despite my respect and even love for my English professors and teacher educators in my undergraduate degree, I simply was not prepared well enough to do my job, notably as a teacher of writing.
I set out to learn by teaching, and do better. During the late 1980s, I was fortunate to learn further through the Spartanburg Writing Project (Nation Writing Project), where I discovered that much of my on-the-job training was misguided (thanks, Brenda Davenport).
Anyone who teaches knows that becoming an effective teacher is a journey and that those first 3, 5, or even 10 years are challenging and include a great deal of growth that cannot be accomplished in teacher certification programs.
None the less, everything surrounding teaching, and especially the teaching of reading, can and should be better.
That was true in 1940 and every decade since then.
Teacher and school bashing, shouting “crisis”—these have been our responses over and over; these are not how we create a powerful teacher workforce, and these will never serve the needs of our students who need great teachers and public education the most.
The myth of the bad teacher is a Great American Tradition that need to end.