Are New Teachers Confused by Misconceptions of Greatness?

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New teachers are so quick to give veterans the “great teacher” label. Some hand it out as thoughtlessly as doctors, passing out stickers to toddlers after their yearly well visits.

One new teacher I know was preparing for her second year in the profession. In a recent conversation, she zealously told me how she was getting ready for the school year.

She received help from someone who just retired from her school. “He’s a great teacher,” she announced. “He gave me all his old worksheets and tests.” Now, she explained, things would be easy, as she would have less activity preparation and lesson planning.


I was devastated to learn that she and many new teachers believe that someone who uses worksheets and tests is a “great teacher.” I must assume that she will bury her students with these coffee-stained worksheets and bombard them with boring, useless multiple-choice tests.

After all, don’t most new teachers want to emulate those they perceive to be great? This is what they learn. Education professors and teacher mentors teach the strategy: find a great teacher and do what she does.

The problem with this is twofold. One, there are very few truly great teachers. Two, this monkey-see-monkey-do approach does not lend itself to self-evaluation, research and discovery, which are the legitimate tools of great teachers.

I wanted so badly to look at this young teacher and say,”Please don’t be that teacher. He is not great, and he will only keep you from realizing your own path to success.” I wanted to tell her that I know that she can be so much better, but a former mentor had already influenced her far more with his years of accumlated worksheets and tests than I could with a few words in a short conversation.

Sadly, I realized that her misconception of great teachers great may keep her from reaching greatness herself.

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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