In most professions the practitioners can point to a product or an effect of their work. A better tool, a running program, a written document, satisfied clients, smoother operations. Yet there is no object produced in teaching and the teacher’s job is not to make people or institutions happy, but to draw the student to learn, to change. What is the product? It is not the curriculum, which is only one of many ways of organizing subject matter. It is not the student’s mind, which arrives mostly assembled. It is not an abstract ideal of knowledge which if it exists only exists inside this mostly assembled student’s mind. The teacher’s work is to lead the student to learn – perhaps the material, perhaps how to learn – but only the student can do the actual learning. So what is the product?Ok. That was a big taste, but I like that! "What is the product?" I believe that this thought is at the core of my frustration with the media... even the conservative media. Even though they want to praise teachers out of one side of their mouths, they also want to blame those same teachers when students don't perform to expectations. You see, many believe that the product of the teacher is an educated student. I just don't agree.
The Guru's Handbook went on to discuss what the product of the teacher IS, but it stimulated a few braincells in the direction of the fact that student achievement is the product of something. I work with the same amount of energy, desire, effort, and ingenuity with each of my students and in each of my classes, and yet I have the full spectrum of student achievement... sometimes in one classroom! My student's achievement is not the product of this teacher. Frankly, I wouldn't dare rob any of my students of the credit for their achievements. But even the collective student achievement (or lack of achievement) is not the result of the collective of teachers. I believe that it is the product of society... of culture.
Teachers are not to be let off the hook. There are certainly good teachers and bad teachers, but the problems in education in America are not primarily the teachers. If we (collectively) are part of the problem, then we are about 10% of the problem (if that!), and yet all I ever hear about is what the teachers could be doing better. Then I hear about crazy things like merit pay for teachers! Nuts!
The system needs to change, there is no argument there, but I just fear that the direction of change is still the wrong direction.