I’m really glad that Teacher Quality has become the focus of so much of our discussion about making schools better, pretty much across all sectors and types of schools (and even across nations). That’s pretty much as it should be: It’s pretty clear that quality of teaching is the thing that matters and the way to make an educational institution great is to fill it with great people who are constantly seeking to be even better and who feel honored and valued. As far as I can tell, that’s how great schools get great results.
But I want to propose a tweak to the language we use to describe the goal of building our schools around great teaching. Teaching Quality is a much better phrase than Teacher Quality. Teacher Quality suggests that what we seek is a fixed quantity, inherent in the people we hire. Certainly there’s no small amount of talent and skill and knowledge that people bring to the job. It’s a huge part of the equation. But so is a focus on craft. On the things that talented people choose to do or not do when they get up in front of a room or plan to do as they plan their lessons. No matter how good someone is, their goal should always be to refine their craft a little more and the test of an organization lies in its ability to honor people by making them better. Quality people who are allowed to struggle—because they don’t have the support of their leaders or they don’t know how to solve predictable problems like off task behavior or disengaged students, or who ask all of their brilliant questions orally and forget to ask students to write—are as much a part of the struggle as bringing quality people into the field.
Don’t get me wrong. I am with NCTQ and others: teaching is challenging work and training to be a teacher should be challenging too. Not everyone should be able to become a teacher. But what really matters, what our end goal should be, is to improve the quality of what great people do in their classrooms. That means studying top performers to learn from them and building a culture of always a little better. Maybe that’s implicit in the phrase Teacher Quality… but to me it’s more explicit in Teaching Quality, so I vote to use that term. (And by the way to continue focusing on it, whatever we call it, for more than a year or so before some other new idea becomes chic.)