Hearts, Minds, and Teachers

The balance for great teaching
Frank Rolando Romero, Unsplash

Education gets an unfair wrap. It’s always been fashionable to question the intellect of teachers. Everyone has heard the worn out line: “those who can, do…” and there’s no reason to complete the phrase because everyone knows it. This witty observation is damaging, unfairly suggesting that teachers are unskilled and a class below all other professionals.

Those that can, do — but do they well? Plot out a normal distribution for any profession. Half of all accountants are below average and some are miserably bad. Similarly, half of all accounting teachers are above average. Just because one is doing, doesn’t mean one is doing well. By no means should all doers be ranked above all teachers. Yet, that’s what the clever generalization suggests. All teachers are of inferior intellect and skill. 

This is lazy thinking. While some teachers on Tik-Tok surely aren’t helping the cause, there are plenty of brilliant minds leading classrooms. There are also big hearts in education, and this is the crucial point. A lot of times, it isn’t because the teacher cannot “do;” it is that educators subscribe to a different set of priorities. Teachers have a different view of where meaning is found.

A big heart shouldn’t be a problem, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The unchecked progressive do-gooders would be wise to learn that no good deed goes unpunished. In theory, big hearts are good, but we do not live in theory. We do not occupy a controlled vacuum where particles can be suspended in time. Real life is chaos. It’s messy. It requires logic and acceptance and sacrifice. Those are words foreign to the heart.

There are great minds in public education, but the hearts are even greater. In the corpus of education, the brain is supplementary to the heart. This has always been common, going back to the one room schoolhouses. The magnetic field of education attracts intellect, but its pull is greater for the empathetic and the compassionate.

The big monthly meetings in the central offices are not gatherings of the minds per se, but a meeting of the hearts. Climbing up the bureaucratic ladder of education is not a meritocratic process. The teacher with the best scores is not elevated to a district-wide decision making role. The teacher with the highest GRE score isn’t promoted. School leadership roles go to the project people. They sold baked goods, called attention to a bullying problem, organized a canned goods drive, and collected jackets for the needy.

These are noble tasks, but they’re not rocket science. There is a difference between deciding that Wednesday of spirit week is “Dress Like A Nerd” day and choosing to allocate thousands of dollars towards an unproven reading program with good advertising. Unfortunately, the people at the top making the big decisions got there by making the small extracurricular decisions. The teachers that know what they are doing — educating children — are too busy doing that to plan a trip to the recycling center. They don’t have time for another meeting. They’re too busy instructing students to instruct their colleagues.

The result is a leadership team filled with leaders that know very little about actual education. They are well versed in educational leadership, but not so much pedagogy. This in itself is not a problem. To them, education involves feelings. There are teachers that are scientific and calculated. Teaching students is a puzzle. There are teachers with huge hearts. They want kids to learn, but their first priority is emotionally supporting children. And to be fair, education requires booths.

The problem is that the leadership teams making big decisions are almost exclusively big heart teachers.

Imagine the board of directors of a major corporation being led by a team with above average intellect, but an enormous heart. We’re talking Grinch-trying-to-save-the-sleigh heart size. How long do you think that business is going to last? The purpose of a business is to make money. Heart is not going to increase the bottom line. If anything, it will only get in the way.

Of course, education isn’t a business. This is true, but the main purpose is educating children. Teachers don’t have to be cold hearted, but a little less heart and a little more brains would be good. The brains are there. They’re in the buildings. We just need to turn down the heart or at least cool it with the Tik-Tok.

The cold-hearted teacher knows that’s not happening. Heart only increases, and we’ve only seen the beginning of Tik-Tok teachers. There is a simple solution but the trade off is severe. Good teachers — scientific and methodical in practice — need to leave the classroom and take positions in the central office. 

This must happen, but good teachers are reluctant to make this move. They love teaching. They love the classroom. Even their cold hearts warm up when they see the light bulbs turn on inside young minds. But they won’t love teaching much longer if Team Big Heart keeps imposing ridiculous policies.

Pearce Dietrich
Pearce Dietrich is a former Title I School Teacher/Administrator. His online social studies curriculum and other content can be found at his blog theconstrainedvision.com

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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