I saw on the BBC website the news that three UK teachers are in the “world top teacher final”.
Maybe I’m just feeling disagreeable because it’s near the end of term – but the whole concept makes my hackles rise. That’s not to disparage the achievements of those three people; they sound as if they’re fantastic at their job – innovative, dedicated and talented – and it’s good to see recognition being given to them.
But the idea of finding the “best teacher” – well, it’s just plain wrong. I’m not about to deny some teachers are better than others – those who pretend all their colleagues are good also make my hackles rise! But how do you compare an excellent history teacher to an excellent maths teacher? How do you compare a teacher who has a fantastic talent for encouraging school-phobics with one who gets the absolute best from high fliers? Even within one school and one subject, there’s seldom a clear-cut “best”. My style of teaching goes down very well with some kids – they might feel I’m their “best” maths teacher – but others in the same class will have found one of my colleagues to be their “best” (though I was pleased to overhear one of them saying that she had no hesitation in choosing A-level maths, because “there aren’t any rubbish teachers in the department”). I guess I do have a view on which of my own teachers was the overall best, going across all the subjects. But whilst I could point to evidence that made her clearly “good” and some of the others less “good”, my grounds, in the end, for regarding her as “best” would be purely personal.
I’m not against this because I have a general issue with competition – I am a pretty competitive person myself in some areas, and so wouldn’t be that hypocritical! (Though I do take issue with those who regard PE as a fundamentally competitive exercise, as well as with those who seek to protect children from ever dealing with not being first/top). But competition should be based on something where there’s some reasonable way of putting people in order (i.e. based on an ordinal variable, if I’m going to be geeky about it). You may not like giving a prize for a running race, or indeed for an exam result, but at least it’s clear how the prize is awarded. Awarding a prize for the best cake is somewhat more subjective, but at least we’re comparing like with like. Looking for overall best teachers is rather like discussing whether my spaghetti bolognese is better than your victoria sponge.
I wouldn’t get anything like so annoyed by someone trying to compare spag bol with a cake though, because everyone knows that’s daft. By contrast, there’s still far too many who appear to think that teaching is cut and dried, and that there are “best” methods , “best” lessons and “best” approaches, when every sensible person in the job knows that what works best depends on you, the class and the circumstances.