Monday, October 8, 2012

Demand Great Teachers!

I spent a couple days last week at a convention with several hundred Christian teachers. It was, as these things tend to be, a great time of renewal, worship, and interacting with colleagues in Kingdom work. I had the opportunity to reconnect with friends in Christian Education that I hadn't talked with in a year or more, and the chance to make some new friends. (There's another whole post in there--started some great conversations with colleagues from Michigan, and my wheels are really turning right now.)


One speaker in particular though has prompted a lot of reflection. I'm actually a little troubled by his presentation, because it hits really close to home. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but here is the gist of what he said that has been working on my heart and mind:
  • "How many of you are 'good' teachers? How many of you are 'godly' teachers? You can be 'good' without being 'godly,' but you can't be a 'godly' teacher without being 'good.'"
  • "Imagine a parent praying for his or her child just before the beginning of a new school year: 'God, please let my child have an average teacher this year!' No one says that. That would be crazy."
  • "The fact is, most teachers are awful."
  • "Over the course of your schooling, from Kindergarten through college, you have about 100 teachers. How many of you had 100 great teachers?" <crickets> "How many of you had 50?" <No response.> "25?" <Uncomfortable shifting in the room...> "10?" <Finally a smattering of hands go up in a room full of hundreds of teachers.> "5? 4? 3? 2? 1?" <Lots of hands.> "So...maybe 5% of teachers are GREAT teachers?"
This was very challenging to me! I think of myself as a good teacher. I hope I am a "godly" teacher too. And I hope I'm on my way to becoming a great teacher. But this was pretty sobering!

He went on with this challenging thought:

There are three categories of teachers:
  1. Some teachers are "on fire." (The ones who are genuinely sad when school is out for summer...)
  2. Some teachers are "losing the fire." (The ones who work hard through the heartache of the job...)
  3. Some teachers need to be fired. (Whoa...did he actually just say that?)
No pulling punches--he laid it right out there, that some of the teachers in the room need to go.


Truth is, I agree with him: some teachers, even in Christian schools, are simply bad teachers. But what would this look like in practice? 

My friend Brenda (a former Christian school teacher who is perhaps a little cynical) once quipped, "Fire a bad teacher in a Christian school? It's easier to hire a hitman."

She's joking, you know. But is there some truth there? I'm really wondering about what would happen if tuition-paying parents would start to hold school boards accountable for retaining poor teachers. 

What if Christian schools and school boards were bold enough to actually demand that their teachers are good...or even great! 

What would schools look like if teachers who just aren't doing their job fully were encouraged to find another line of work?

What if bad teachers--even in Christian schools--were fired?

What if school boards would only hire great teachers to replace the poor teachers?

Okay, I'm also realistic...where are all these "great" teachers hiding? Because I'm pretty sure there aren't a surplus of fantastic Christian teachers in hiding someplace, just waiting for someone to swoop in, liberate them, and put them to work in schools. So I think we need to think about this in terms of expecting teachers to become great teachers, and provide them with the professional development to become really great. 

And then expect them to be great.

And...after a reasonable amount of time (maybe two years or so?), if they aren't on their way to becoming great...maybe it really is time to fire them. 

So here is my threefold challenge: 
  • Parents, demand great teachers! Hold your children's teachers accountable.
  • Teachers, be great! Expect a culture of continuous improvement and professional development in schools.
  • Christian school boards, hire good, godly teachers! And then support them and encourage them and expect them to become great!


  1. Just some random thoughts on your thoughts Dave.

    "Great" is a relative term. Different teachers have different teaching styles and different students have different learning styles. I may have thought the quiet, patient, kind teacher who introduced me to some great books was a great teacher, while others may have seen that teacher as reserved, boring and unenthusiastic. At the same time, the teacher with all the sports analogies and stories, always talking about not winning or losing but how we play the game, working as a team, and incorporating basketball into learning grammar may have been a great teacher for kids who learned and thought that way, while I was frustrated, uninterested and thinking that he was not such a great teacher. Remembering someone as a great teacher is not what makes them great.

    Certainly teachers, just as any other professionals, need to be held accountable to some sort of standard, evaluated and face consequences for poor performance. Teachers, just as any other professionals will do themselves a favor by continually striving to improve and become better practitioners of their profession. That being said, we can't all be "great" in everyones eyes, according to everyone's standards. I'd rather focus on "godly."

    I don't agree with the speaker on his first point if by godly, he means Christ like. I remember a teacher who from my perspective was loving, patient, kind, compassionate, forgiving...and as far as I knew, a very godly teacher/person. But, he couldn't control the classroom, didn't deliver extemperaneously and often seemed unsure or uncomfortable about what he was teaching. So was he a good teacher? meh... Was he a godly man? I for one, would not cast a vote against him there.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I agree that "great" is relative, and quite subjective. We need to be a lot clearer on what "great" really entails, don't we? I have another post to write here! :-)

    I've continued thinking about the "godly" vs. "good" argument. I think I agree with you, rather than the speaker. You bring up a really good point in saying that someone who is Christlike is not automatically a good teacher. Perhaps it would make more sense to say that "godly" teachers are going to strive to give God glory through their teaching practice as well? In that case, being sub-par would be dishonoring to the Lord. Not defending this line of thinking, necessarily...just...continuing my thinking...