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Guest Post: “What Does A Teacher Do?”


(Note: I very seldom have guest posts at this blog, but I thought I’d share this piece by Bob Sickles, the President of Publisher of Eye on Education (Bob also writes his own blog). EOE publishes a wide range of books on teaching and learning, including my last one and its upcoming sequel. I think his post provides a bit more nuanced view of businesses and education than you’ll find in many of the excellent articles in The Best Posts & Articles Explaining Why Schools Should Not Be Run Like Businesses. I’d encourage you to share your reactions to his post)

What Does a Teacher Do?

By Bob Sickles, President and Publisher, Eye On Education

As my staff and I began planning a roundtable webcast on teacher evaluation, a fundamental question emerged: What does a teacher do? Examining this question might shed some light on the teacher accountability debate which had been discussed in a recent issue of Education Week.

As the founder and CEO of a profitable education publishing company, I’m all for the entrepreneurial spirit and the push for accountability. Yet I feel uncomfortable when my MBA friend argues that our educational problems would be resolved if only schools would behave more like for-profit companies in the private sector. He wants to tie teacher evaluation to standardized test scores. His sole focus on high stakes tests is grounded in his desire to equate profit growth with test score increases.

There is no doubt that teachers have much in common with business managers. Neither will succeed without high expectations for themselves and others. They both have measurable goals and objectives for which they need to be held accountable. The hard driving language of the world of competitive business also applies to students, teachers, and schools: achieve, accomplish, succeed, perform….

When observing our best teachers at work, other words also come to mind, such as caring, nurturing, motivational, inspirational. Our best teachers at all levels help students make connections, spark their creativity, stimulate their thinking, and build up their confidence. It is my opinion that these characteristics are key contributors to enduring and meaningful learning. It is sad that the teacher accountability debate seems to be dominated by people like my friend who don’t really understand what our best teachers actually do.

What is sadder still is that my MBA friend does not really understand what goes on at successful businesses either. Our best performing companies do not allow their accountants to dictate policy and strategy. The accountant’s job is to keep score, not to play the game. When I started my company, I organized it so that my accountant worked for me and not the other way around. Our best companies place high value on developing caring and nurturing relationships with their customers, vendors and the members of their staffs. Our best business leaders continuously motivate, inspire, spark, and connect. If we lose sight of these traits, neither America’s schools nor their businesses will achieve the results we need.

I’d like to ask readers of this post to send comments to help us chip away at the complexities of teacher evaluation. How can we reconcile results-based accountability with the need for teachers who nurture and inspire?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Pingback: Guest Post: “What Does A Teacher Do?” – Larry Ferlazzo's Websites … - Angryteach

  2. Hallelujah! As someone who spent 30 years in a successful business career prior to following her passion and becoming an elementary teacher, I am often frustrated by the polarization between education and business. Business people (myself included) can’t understand why the education model is so far removed from what we know works well in a business environment. Yet the traditional educator retort is that we’re not making widgets, but nurturing individual learners. I’m certainly not in favor of high stakes testing as the single indicator of teacher effectiveness, but teachers should be accountable for the progress of their students. Sickles hits the nail on the head when he talks about understanding what the best businesses do, as well as what the best teachers do. Education has much to learn from successful businesses, particularly as our economy has shifted from manufacturing (widgets) to service (nurturing) and information (learning) industries. And just as business managers are measured on multiple dimensions, educators should be, as well. Profits are indeed the scorecard by which business success is measured. Similarly student progress (year over year, not based on a single snapshot), should be the scorecard for any teacher. I want my students to leave me knowing more about their world and as better thinkers and learners than when they arrived in my classroom in September. I have no problem with being measured on that.

  3. Andrea,
    Thanks for your comment. It seems you and I agree about these matters. Fair and appropriate teacher evaluation is tough, especially in the politically charged atmosphere of the schools. We need fair minded people to step up and enter the conversation. @SicklesBob

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