I’m certain that you have had some terrible teachers. Teachers can be awful for a lot of reasons: they’re confusing, they write bad tests and quizzes, they give miserable lectures, they pontificate for 20 minutes about something completely unrelated to the class’s subject or they’re just plain mean. I have experienced all of these things at least once during my time here at the University and some when I was in high school.

The state legislature is working on a way to find those bad teachers more quickly and get them out of the classroom. But it’s anyone’s guess if the method they’ve proposed will work.

On Dec. 1, the Michigan Senate passed a bill to alter the way teachers are evaluated. If passed, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based upon student achievement in the form of performance on statewide standardized tests and school-specific assessments, according to a Dec. 2 report by The Detroit News. The legislation now goes before the state House of Representatives and might make it to a vote before the lame duck session ends on Friday. But that seems unlikely considering the objections of powerful teachers’ unions like the Michigan Education Association.

Maybe Michigan tenure needs reform — it takes a fair amount of time and effort to remove tenured teachers unless they do something blatantly egregious. On one hand, that prevents adequate teachers from being forced out of a district simply because they ticked off a parent, student or administrator. On the other hand, it also protects teachers who have never done well even though they have been granted tenure.

Here in Michigan, we have fairly good teachers overall because we have a lot of strong teaching programs. Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University and, of course, the University of Michigan have great teacher education programs. And Michigan certification is among the most difficult to obtain in the nation. Michigan certification will transfer to a lot of other states fairly easily. It’s much more difficult to transfer out-of-state certification to Michigan.

But that’s not to say that every single Michigan teacher is awesome. Despite the quality of Michigan teaching programs, there are always going to be some poor teachers. And they shouldn’t retain their positions if they’re doing a bad job.

The problem is figuring out what “doing a bad job” means — and what it means to do a good job. That’s because everyone likes teachers for different reasons. For kids, a lot of it has to do with personality. For parents, a lot of it has to do with helping their kid get into college. For the government (and school administrations focused on funding), it’s all about the standardized test results. Teachers, meanwhile, often just want to help students learn. And though all of those things are connected, they are never the same thing.

In the School of Education here at the University, we talk a lot about grades, testing and learning. Sometimes, learning can’t be effectively measured in an empirical way. Sometimes, the best teacher is the one that helps a troubled kid find peace in the classroom. These students may not learn anything about geometry or Shakespeare — but maybe that’s okay if they feel like, for the first time, they’re in a safe, caring environment.

But students obviously need to know about obtuse angles and “Romeo and Juliet.” Teachers have a responsibility to present information in interesting and varied ways to appeal to the broadest possible range of learners. They have a responsibility to help students understand that learning is a life-long process, not just something that happens for the seven hours a day that the students are in school. And sometimes, even if students apply themselves, they still won’t get an ‘A+’. If teachers teach material specifically related to standardized tests in an effort to increase students’ scores, they’re often teaching test-taking skills instead of content knowledge. Test-taking skills can be important, but shouldn’t be overvalued.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that a teacher is inadequate. Students don’t respond to these teachers, grades remain low and there’s no evidence that students are progressing. But because everyone has a different perspective on what a good teacher is, these teachers are few and far between. Less effective teachers are hard to point out.

The consensus among a lot of educators is that learning often can’t be measured by a grade. It can only be measured by a student’s attitude. At the end of the day, it’s a student’s responsibility to apply themself. It’s the teacher’s job to show them how.

I don’t know everything that makes a good teacher. I don’t know if it’s possible to know. But what I do know is that students’ performance on tests shouldn’t be the determining factor.

Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s editorial page editor. She can be reached at rachelvg@umich.edu.

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