You might even suck if your students are already 95% educated on DAY ONE.
Sometimes we get it the first time. But usually we have to be taught something a few times—in different ways, by different teachers—before it really sinks in. There are ideas that I failed fully to grasp the first 16 times they were presented to me (e.g., shorting stocks—I just couldn’t understand how you could make money off of a stock that’s losing value). Regardless, for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery, the light bulb finally went on the 17th time it was explained to me.
Now it’s tempting to conclude that the teacher who explained it to me the 17th time is a great teacher, just as it’s tempting to conclude that the teacher who explained it to me the 13th time is a bad teacher. But neither of these conclusions is necessarily true. Maybe the teacher that explained it to me the 13th time got me 95% of the way there. Maybe the last teacher was about as central to my breakthrough as the proverbial hair that broke the camel’s back.
We often blame teachers for academic failures that aren’t really failures: sure, little Timmy didn’t get it this time, but he’ll get it the next time. What’s worse, we often give teachers credit for pedagogical prowess they simply do not possess. This is nowhere more true, incidentally, than in expensive private schools. Students show up to these schools with sharpened skills and boatloads of cultural capital. Consequently—surprise, surprise—they learn a great deal. They do well. But you should probably be praising the parents for this, not the profs.
Teachers at elite institutions (and in elite programs within public schools) like to think that they’re very good at what they do. And some of them are. No doubt about that. But many of them suck. Many of them are terrible teachers. And I believe there’s a simple explanation for this: they suck because they can—viz., they’ve never been forced to be good. When your students are already 95% of the way there on Day One, it’s fairly easy to get them to the finish line before the end of the semester. You can make a thousand mistakes and still succeed.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)
Originally published at Committing Sociology. Reprinted with permission.
Photos courtesy of author.