Perceptions of the Teacher

“I hope my child has an adequate teacher this year.”

I don’t think any parent has ever said such a statement. Maybe a parent would after a child experienced a horrible, bad teacher, but most children probably haven’t experienced a bad teacher. If there were a poll conducted about the qualities of a bad teacher I hypothesize that the responses would be similar. However, if another poll was conducted about qualities of a “good” teacher I think that there would be no consistency in responses, and possibly, if not probably, some contradictions.

A recent blog post discussed the qualities of a teacher, coming to the conclusion that there really is no “perfect” teacher. Every teacher has aspects of the profession for which he or she excels and every teacher has aspects of the profession for which he or she is deficient. I would agree with that axiom.

But if no teacher is perfect, and there is no clear consensus on what a “good” teacher is, then what am I?

I am an amazing, inspiring, life-altering teacher; to a couple of students.

I am a reprehensible, bullying, unethical teacher; to a couple of students.

I am just a teacher, nothing terrible, nothing great; to most students.

What I am not is that amazing teacher, then that reprehensible teacher, then the average teacher. I am all of those things at once because I am perceived by each person I contact multiple times in a single day. My reputation isn’t based upon a single student, a single colleague, or even a single evaluator. It is based upon countless perceptions accumulated over a career. But as we read headlines about how unprepared our high school graduates are for college, our students our falling behind other countries, we need something to blame. Sometimes we blame poverty. Sometimes we blame other nations for testing methods. Sometimes we blame the curriculum. Sometimes we blame the school.

When we blame the schools what often gets blamed are the teachers. What we do then is develop a system to judge the teachers so that we can get rid of the “bad” teachers. I am sure there are terrible teachers out there, those teachers that have completely checked out, that might go through the motions, and they need to find a more inspiring profession. However, when we create that evaluation system to judge our teachers, OTES in my case, we create a system that defines what “good” teaching is, resulting in a complete flip of the idea of there being a broad definition of a “good” teacher.

OTES has a rubric describing what “good” teacher does. But if I accept that there is no agreement on a “good” teacher, that there might even be contradiction, OTES will inherently label some teachers that have as good qualities as “bad” teachers and some teachers with bad qualities as “good” teachers. The perception of “bad” teachers running schools, ruining students, led the bureaucracy to create a definition of good teaching. Then the perception of one evaluator interpreting the bureaucratic perception of a “good” teacher determines a label that follows me through my career. It’s a label that will dictate my job security. It’s a label that will crush or raise my self-esteem. It is a label that will instill me with confidence or rattle my confidence.

As students move through school and interact with many different teachers, many different opinions about each individual student exist. I don’t believe there is any one student that is universally admired by every single teacher that has had a particular student, but imagine a society where one teacher was able to dictate the fate of any one student. One teacher could have the power to label a student, “smart,” “dumb,” “creative,” “lazy,” or any other potential name. Suddenly the purpose of school is not to educate, but rather to appease. But by taking away my labels that is what OTES has done to me.

OTES has diminished the feedback I get from my most important stakeholders, students. No longer does their opinion have sustenance. OTES has made my image beholden of a bureaucracy, and its definition of “good” teaching. No longer is my image dictated by hundreds of perceptions, but just one. We would never dream of doing that to students, why would we do that to the teachers?

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