Commentary – In search of excellence

Commentary by Jeff Burgar

A most interesting comment was made at one of our community schools a few years by a graduating student. The young gentleman, in his address said, and I paraphrase his words, “I urge everybody learn to play a musical instrument. It is a skill that will be infinitely rewarding, and stay with you and be with you the rest of your life.”

One supposes, if the school environment was such, he could have as easily said, “I urge everybody learn how to use a welder.”

Or an oven or fry pan, a surgeon’s scalpel, a computer programming language, or Graham and Dodd’s investment strategies.

The point is, there are many, many skills that can easily stay with one for an entire lifetime, and also be infinitely rewarding. A question that might be asked is, “How many of these skills are taught in any schools?”

Are there more reasons than few resources?

An interesting theory these days has to do with education itself. Are outstanding teachers made, or born?

There are increasing schools of thought that say, yes, outstanding teachers can be taught to be outstanding. This is contrary to opinions of the past, a world in which cookie cutter teachers were cranked out of university classes and let loose on unsuspecting young minds. Good teachers, it is mostly assumed, will learn on the job and flourish. Bad teachers will finally get the message and choose another career, eventually be fired, or left to languish in the system.

Along with the standard thinking is, it is not the teacher’s fault if student achievement is mediocre. So much, it is argued, has to do with school resources, student home life, the cultural environment of the community, who does the ranking and how, and even the curriculum. How teachers teach is rarely an issue.

In the face of these arguments, there is increasing evidence that all these things are important. Yes, they can work to impede learning. But even in the face of obstacles, good teachers can overcome.

Even more important, good teaching skills themselves can be taught, learned and put to work. The result is greater interest by students in learning, and eventually, well-rounded and well-educated contributors in all walks of society.

Our student who found a love of music was, no doubt, inspired by a teacher who loved music. It might be equally easy to find teachers passionate about good carpentry, good cooking, good welding, and good mechanics.

Perhaps harder to find teachers passionate about history, mathematics or English. No matter. An outstanding teacher, made, not born, will find a way to teach, no matter what the circumstances.

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