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'Unqualified' Teachers

September 22, 1985

It would not have been out of order to have written the headline as "Some New and Old Teachers Are Called 'Unqualified.' "

I have serious reservations (about the possibility) that the Los Angeles School District and the California teacher credentialing commission will illuminate the concept of the performance of a teacher--credentialed or not--when they complete their joint study.

My skepticism is composed mainly of experience with similar efforts (albeit on a smaller scale). The difficulty is the unwillingness of educationists to accept responsibility for their behavior.

If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught.

What counts, I am saying, is what a student knows and can do after he has been exposed to the activity we call teaching.

In other words, a very large component of a teacher's performance is bound up in the performance of his students, when, according to the teacher, the teaching is done.

If the commission accepts the suggestion that the performance of a teacher is inextricably entwined with the performance of his students, it should also accept the suggestion that the present forms of organization and operation of the places of learning we call schools will have to be overhauled.

They are not intended to support--and they do not support--the idea that the failure of students to perform reflects the failure of teachers to teach.

The fact is we are all teachers, all our lives--but most of us are not employed as such. The truth is that most of our teaching has unintended consequences.

For example, because all students spend the same 18 weeks in Algebra 1--irrespective of how rapidly they achieve the level of competence they display--they quickly learn that what counts is how long you are in your seat, not what you know or can do.

That is a notion that pervades a substantial part of the workplaces of adults (including teachers, who, apparently, believe they become better teachers each year they are in a classroom). Is that one of the lessons we intended our children to learn?

The sooner we recognize that some of the best teachers on this planet--or any other, for that matter--are employed in the mythical place known as Madison Avenue, and none of them is credentialed, the greater is the likelihood that our public schools can become the kinds of place they ought to be.

ROBERT M. GORDON

Beverly Hills

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