The quest for the key to teacher effectiveness never ends. The latest is the assertion that high cognitive skills result in high student performance (“Do Smarter Teachers Make Smarter Students?” Education Next, Spring 2019).
The study found that teachers who come from the top third of their academic peers in college are more likely to be successful in the classroom than others. In other words, smarter teachers make for smarter students. I think this conclusion is out of touch with reality. It assumes that mere possession of subject matter, as evidenced by high grades, is enough to get through to students.
If that were the case, then every Phi Beta Kappa professor who possesses a Ph. D. would automatically be a star teacher in K-12. But knowing one’s subject matter does not necessarily mean knowing how to teach it. That’s where pedagogy comes into play. State licensing has been rightly criticized for erecting too many needless obstacles to teach in a public school. But done correctly, such courses can mean the difference between success and failure.
Moreover, the study makes no mention of the importance of affective skills. So much depends on the ability of teachers to connect with their students. Personality plays an indispensable role in that regard. Because it is not as easily measured as cognitive factors, it is too often minimized. But anyone who has observed in a public school knows that students are easily turned off by cold, aloof pedants. I’m not saying that personality trumps expertise. Instead, I believe that the former warrants far greater attention. It’s like the importance of a bedside manner in a physician.
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