All kinds of people out there think our classrooms are filled with rotten teachers doing a lousy job with their students. If teachers knew what they were doing, these folks say, if they were anything like what a good teacher should be, they'd get those kids whipped into shape in a hurry. Everyone would work hard, everyone would succeed—NO EXCUSES! Achievement scores would soar. "If I was a teacher, man, things would be different."
Sometimes I wish some of those folks could spend six weeks teaching. Not as student teachers under the watchful guidance of the classroom teacher, not as classroom assistants, not as guests who come in for a day and leave. As the person who runs a class of 30 to 40 students for six, on-their-own weeks. I'm not cruel. I wouldn't make them do it for a full day. Maybe in an elementary school, they'd work from the beginning of the day until lunch time. In a middle school or a high school, they'd teach two classes with different curricula needing two separate preparations. I'd not only pay them a full teacher's salary for their efforts, I'd pay them double to make them think they were making out like bandits. And if they could do what they think they could do in the classroom, if they were as good as those "real teachers" they dreamed up in their heads, if they could take low achieving kids and teach them, really teach them, how to read, write and do math—NO EXCUSES!—hell, I'd beg them to stay on as full time teachers at twice everyone else's salary. They'd be worth it, and maybe they could show all those other deadbeat teachers how it's done.
If a few of the blowhards took me up on it, they'd come out at the end of six weeks with different attitudes. They'd find out there's no magic teaching formula that turns every kid into a whiz kid, or even most of the kids into whiz kids, unless they started out with a class full of whiz kids. If they went into a school where most of the kids were a few years below grade level, they wouldn't figure out some amazing way to make those students "get it."
At the end of those six weeks, when they saw they hadn't turned their students into world beaters, some of them might leave cursing out the kids who wouldn't pay attention and all those teachers and parents who gave those kids bad attitudes. "It's not my fault someone else screwed those rotten kids up so bad. Give me a year, and believe me, I'd get them in shape. They may not like me, they may not think I'm their best friend, but by God I'd make those sons of bitches learn!" But if they were honest, they'd think back on their own efforts which didn't yield the results they'd hoped for. They'd remember dragging themselves home at the end of a teaching day—even half a day, even just a few classes—tired and confused, wondering why things didn't go better. They'd think back on the evenings they lay on the couch staring at the ceiling with the television in the background they weren't listening to, asking themselves, "What the hell am I going to do in class tomorrow?" And they'd admit, "OK, this is tougher than I thought it was. Much tougher. If I wanted to be a good teacher, it would take time, effort, commitment. And even then, there's no way I'd work those miracles I thought any competent teacher should be able to work without breaking a sweat."
Sometimes I wish I could get those cocksure teacher bashers into the classroom for six weeks. But then I think about what would happen in those six weeks, and I reconsider. No, it would be a bad idea. I wouldn't want to do that to the students.