I get fan mail from time to time and invitations to speak that most of the time never come to fruition. One such invitation came from the treasurer of a Catholic school in the Los Angeles area. He had read my book “Math Education in the US: Still Crazy After All These Years” and liked it so much that he ordered ten copies for various teachers in the school.
About two years ago he asked me if I would speak in late August at his school. I was just starting my teaching job at my current school and had to report the week before school started–which coincided with when he wanted me to speak. I said I could not given the circumstances, but maybe we could look at doing it in April since I got two weeks off, and surely one of those weeks his school would be in session. He demonstrated a great amount of inflexibility and said August was the only time. He then suggested the same time in August a year from then.
I said I couldn’t think that far ahead and let the subject drop. We continued in a back and forth conversation in which he was constantly buttering me up and saying things like “You are a national treasure but you probably don’t realize it.” He would ask for my opinion on various things and I would give it to him.
One time, however, he said that he thought teachers are born not made, and wondered what my opinion was on the matter. I said I disagreed and that I had learned a lot about teaching techniques from articles I’ve read from reliable sources, (and including talks I heard at a researchED conference that I attended). One can always improve one’s teaching if one has the inclination–there is always something to be learned. He apparently didn’t like this, and I never heard from him again.
I’ve thought about this from time to time because I hear others saying it also. Teachers are no more born than virtuoso musicians are born, or award winning writers or actors. Aside from the few prodigies who may exist (the mathematician Ramanujan comes to mind) in general it takes hard work and much practice and learning. (Even Ramanujan had to learn how to do proofs for what he felt were obvious statements that needed none.)
But the myth prevails, and there is a sub-culture of teachers who look at teaching as a journey. In their world, teachers are ninjas and superheroes in a world of unicorns They attend ed camps not to learn new things but to reinforce their misguided notions about ineffective practices being effective and to be among those who speak the same group-think. The slightest indication of going against the group-think will cast such person to wander in the desert–even those who are national treasures who may not realize who they are.