, Derry, New Hampshire


May 30, 2013

Column: Great teachers are born, not made

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews is one of the best education writers in the business. I often agree with his analyses, but I was flummoxed recently when I stumbled upon his take on a Gallup poll response to a question asked almost two years ago.

The poll asked 1,000 American adults, “Is the ability to teach or instruct students more the result of natural talent or more the result of college training about how to teach?”

Seventy percent responded that natural talent was more important than college training. Mathews writes that he found the question “odd” and the answer “troubling.”

I’ve long argued that most of us know little of what really goes on in public-school classrooms. Teacher bashing has become as American as baseball, apple pie and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. But this time, the masses responded correctly to a perfectly logical question.

Any success I’ve achieved as a teacher is due to my willingness to take risks. I’ll never jump the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle, but I’ve always taken creative risks in my classroom, and my formal professional training has nothing to do with it. My language arts methods class did not teach me to dump the grammar worksheets and institute a writing workshop instead.

I never read a case study in my social studies methods class that told me, “Hey, John, tick off some of your more tradition-bound colleagues and mummify bull frogs to get your sixth-graders excited about ancient Egypt. And while you’re at it, have your students perform some of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ to help them understand the inner workings of the Roman government.”

Is risk-taking a talent? Maybe it’s more of a disposition. And in my case, it’s linked with an unwavering trust in my instincts. I didn’t take a test to earn them; they’ve always been a part of me.

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