Do I Have to be a “Great” Teacher?

Be forwarned: This post is all over the place. But, for what it’s worth, it accurately reflects my mental state. And that’s all I can do. God help us.

Question: What do you call the guy who finished medical school at the bottom of his class?

Answer: Doctor

What is it with all of us teachers suddenly having to be “great”? Where I come from, I was taught not to show off. The ultimate goal for we Midwesterners was always understood to be “quiet adequacy.”

What if I am content to be “pretty good” or “unobtrusively a little above average”? Is there a place for me?

And can’t you only be “great” if somebody else sucks? Isn’t this a relative measure? You can only be smart if somebody else is stupid, right? Smart people need stupid people.

Wait…wait….the tests! THE TESTS! If everybody does well on the tests, all the teachers can be GREAT! Perfect.

But here’s what I can’t figure out. It’s a statistical anomaly. It’s a real mystery, so get your thinking caps on because I’m stumped. I live in a highly segregated city with respect to race and income. Based upon our new evaluation system, it turns out that a much higher proportion of super-duper teachers teach in the three wealthiest and whitest districts and the fewest super-duper teachers teach in the three districts that are the poorest and darkest. I can’t figure it out. Random error, I guess.

Anyway, even at ‘pretty good’ I outstrip most of my students. Especially now. Holy crap. The weather has changed. It was a beautiful weekend and now it is officially spring. This is where the trouble starts. And I teach mostly seniors. We are now engaged in The Dance.

They wonder: How little can I do and still pass this class?
They know: Everybody has an incentive for me to pass.

I wonder: At this point, 10 weeks before you theoretically graduate, does it matter what I do? Really? You’re already halfway checked out from whatever your personal baseline was in September. And for some of you, we’re riding asymptotic to zero and falling fast.
I know: If you fail and don’t graduate, I get my ass chewed.

You know: What’s going to happen.

Side Note I: I was looking at some posts from about this time last year. I was pretty angsty, but in a more personal way. I had met a lot of good friends last year; more than my share. But most were leaving at the end of the year. That was pretty hard for me. And it seems hard to believe that it has been almost a year. This year I sort of decided to not make any friends. Despite my best efforts, I made a few. I imagine they will be leaving.

But there is a possibility that the administration is changing, subtly. They may be getting the message that this would be a better school if 45 percent of the teaching staff did not leave every year. It seems a little better. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it.

It’s hard to say. On the one hand, I went out for drinks with a pretty random assortment of 9 other teachers from my school recently. I was a hanger-on…this was not an official disgruntlement event. Of the nine, six were absolutely sure they were leaving and two more were actively looking. That’s not a hallmark of satisfaction and continuity.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem quite as oppressive and awful as last year. Or, like I said, maybe I’m just getting used to it. As a friend who’s been here a lot longer than I has said of himself, “I’m like a frog in a pot. They turn up the heat real slow and I don’t even notice.” So, that’s good..

Side Note II: My 8 year-old son is standing right next to me. He was pissed as all hell that I wouldn’t look up the Spanish translations of all the countries bordering France for him on the computer for his homework. I told him to get a map, his Spanish-English dictionary, and look up France his own damn self. Then I helped him find the Spanish translation of Germany. In the last three minutes he has found Belgium and Luxembourg himself. He is now working on Switzerland and officially knows how to use a dictionary better than 78 percent of my seniors.


Mr. Teachbad


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