Great Teachers Matter – Credentials Don’t

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How much will your child’s success in school and life be influenced by the quality of his teachers? Here is what studies say:

The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teachers. Ten years ago, seminal research based on data from Tennessee showed that if two average eight-year-old students were given different teachers—one of them a high performer, the other a low performer—their performance diverged by more than 50 percentile points within three years…

Another study, this time in Dallas, shows that the performance gap between students assigned three effective teachers in a row, and those assigned three ineffective teachers, was 49 percentile points. In Boston, students placed with top-performing math teachers made substantial gains, while students placed with the worst teachers regressed—their math got worse. Studies that take into account all of the available evidence on teacher effectiveness suggest that students placed with high-performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those placed with low-performing teachers.

Another recent study, quoted in the New York Times, put a monetary value on the damage done by just one bad teacher:

Conversely, a very poor teacher has the same effect as a pupil missing 40 percent of the school year. We don’t allow that kind of truancy, so it’s not clear why we should put up with such poor teaching. In fact, the study shows that parents should pay a bad teacher $100,000 to retire (assuming the replacement is of average quality) because a weak teacher holds children back so much.

No matter where you look, the answer is clear: Good teachers matter tremendously—and if you want to choose a school for your child, you should find one that hires the best.

But what does it mean to be a good teacher? And which schools will ensure your child will have good teachers, consistently?

Unfortunately, public schools, with their strict, union-driven work rules, often take a simplistic approach to teacher quality. While there are no doubt great public school teachers peppered through the system, the underlying approach to teacher selection rarely guarantees that your child will consistently have the best teachers, even in a good school district.

  • Hiring practices that exclude many capable potential teachers. Public schools usually draw their teacher candidates from graduates of education colleges, that is, credentialed teachers. At first blush, this sounds like a good idea: after all, you want a teacher who is well trained, and a credential certifies that the teacher has completed course work on teaching. Many credentialed teachers are in fact highly dedicated, intelligent individuals who are passionate about educating children; but many others, in fact, are not.

    Yet it’s important to understand that teaching credentials are neither necessary nor sufficient in hiring the best teachers.

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    • Many smart, dedicated students who graduate with a B.S. or B.A. in a subject field—math, science, literature, history—would make great teachers. They often are passionate about their fields of study; they may have discovered a knack for explaining and mentoring while in college; they have a deep grasp of the subject that they could readily pass on to students. Yet, leaving aside a few alternative certification programs in high-need areas, these outstanding young people are often excluded from teaching by narrow certification requirements that impose onerous additional coursework of questionable merit.
    • A credential, by itself, isn’t necessarily a good indicator of whether someone will make a good teacher. Teacher candidates vary widely in their skills, and admission standards of teacher colleges typically are not as rigorous as those of the top schools offering subject-matter degrees. Certification programs vary significantly in their content—some are more rigorous on subject matter knowledge, for example, while others require students to spend much of their time on courses on teaching processes (which may or many not be of much practical use in the classroom.)
  • Limited ongoing development. In many public school systems, first year teachers immediately teach a full class load. They rarely have extra time to develop or even adapt curriculum; they rarely receive the benefit of regular coaching, or even have the opportunity to observe in a master teacher’s class. Once in, the public school approach seems to be “sink or swim” (beyond whatever support the teacher gets as part of completing her teacher credentialing program).
  • Fast and largely irreversible tenure, which means ineffectual teachers stay on, even when everybody knows they aren’t doing a god job. Most junior teachers get tenure after teaching a mere three or four years, and the standards for tenure are lax. An L.A. Times article reported that 98% of teacher candidates in LA received tenure, after a process so lax that it requires just one unannounced classroom visit by school administrators! Admits the districts superintendent: “Too many ineffective teachers are falling into tenured positions — the equivalent of jobs for life.” Terminating a poorly performing teacher is nearly impossible. Instead, when parents successfully protest about a teacher, the teacher gets moved on to another school or another district, in a process so common it has a name: the “Dance of the Lemons.” 

To summarize:

  • Good teachers are important – critically so!
  • Public schools don’t consistently hire the best and brightest young people as teachers. They don’t train new teachers well. They put teachers on tenure, making it practically impossible to fire teachers who aren’t performing well.

At LePort, we understand how important great teachers are. That’s why our hiring, training and development practices are diametrically opposed to those of public schools:

  • Hiring based on relevant skills and personality traits, not merely credentials. At LePort, we want to hire the most capable and motivated teachers possible. That’s why we hire based on three standards:
    • Deep skills in and passion for the subject the teacher specializes in. In our 4th – 8th grade program, students have different teachers for different subjects: a homeroom teacher, who usually covers literature and language arts, as well as specialist teachers in math, science and history. We believe that these teachers first and foremost must be knowledgeable about their subjects, and passionate about what they teach. This seems obvious—how can a literature teacher instill a passion for books, if he doesn’t love reading—but it’s unfortunately often ignored in other school settings!
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    • A love of and skill in working with children. Being a great scientist isn’t enough to teach science at LePort: we understand that a teacher must love sharing his knowledge with students, and must be able to relate well to children, in order to be effective.
    • Joyous, growth-minded character. We want our students to be inspired by their teachers: we expect teachers to model the type of growth-mindset and joyful living we want our students to achieve. What better way to kill a child’s aspirations than to put a cynical teacher in front of him?!

    While some of our teachers hold teaching credentials, we also hire strong candidates who hold Bachelor’s or advanced degrees in the subject matters they want to teach, and in some cases even hire individuals with little formal training in their area but a clear lifelong passion and knowledge in a given area. We regularly review hundreds of resumes and conduct dozens of interviews, to find the best possible teacher candidates.

  • An intensive, structured on-boarding and ongoing development program. Teaching is a skill that can only grow with practice, practice, practice. New teachers at LePort have many opportunities to develop their skills under the guidance of our academic staff:
    • An onboarding training program. When we hire multiple teachers to start for a new school year, we put on a multi-week, intensive training program. Teachers get immersed in our unique curriculum. They practice teaching lessons the LePort way. They observe each other and give and receive feedback. They learn about our systems, from report cards to organization, from classroom management to parent communications. Most of all, they form a learning community – the basis of growing together throughout the year.
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    • Ongoing observation and guidance. All teachers, but especially new teachers, receive regular feedback from our academic supervisory staff (the Head of School, the Assistant Head of School, and our Executive Director for the Elementary and Junior High program). We regularly observe teachers in class, and give them feedback on how to improve. We also expect teachers to observe each other’s classes and to give each other detailed feedback. (Curious about this feedback? Click here to read a sample of the feedback one of our newer teachers received after such an observation.)
    • Reduced course loads. While many elementary school teachers in other settings teach all day long, with rarely a break, at LePort, even home room teachers have several hours off during the school day, while the subject matter teachers take over the class. This provides time for them to prepare lessons, observe other classes, and think through any classroom or playground issues so that each student has an optimal learning experience. It also enables them to participate in weekly or bi-weekly departmental meetings to discuss curriculum and pedagogy issues specific to their subject area. Every month during minimum days, teachers also have an afternoon to participate in development workshops and further strengthen their teaching skills by collaborating with each other.
  • A willingness to part with teachers who do not live up to our standards. Letting a teacher go is extremely hard: students and parents connect with teachers, even with some that are not top performers. And bringing a new teacher on board to replace one we let go means a lot of effort and cost. Yet because we know how crucial great teachers are, and because even the best hiring and training system cannot guarantee that every single teacher we bring in is a great fit with our program, we find that we on occasion need to replace a teacher who cannot meet our standards, despite much coaching. Because we are a private school and not bound by onerous union contracts, we are actually able to replace under-performing staff members in a timely fashion.

If you are seriously considering LePort for your child, we invite you to do your research about our teachers. Scroll down and read what some of our parents say about our teachers. Review bios of our teachers (Huntington Pier campus & Irvine Spectrum campus). Watch some videos of our teachers in action. Call us to schedule an observation: we invite you to come in, spend an hour or a half-day in our schools, so you can judge our teachers for yourself.

Related Articles

Elementary & Junior High: Who We Are
Parent Testimonials

LePort teachers love what they do, and care a lot. A great education boils down to the teachers. At LePort, every single teacher is very passionate about his subject, has deep knowledge, and cares personally about his students. There’s a personal relationship that grows between a teacher and each child. The teachers become the student’s role models and mentors. Our son wanted to please his teachers, because he respected and admired them—and that made him strive harder. When his teachers gave him their constructive feedback, it thus motivated him, and allowed him to go back and do even better. I really believe LePort teachers care—they take a vested interest in each student, and there is a strong personal relationship that goes on. You can see that—watching my son leave the school, and how sad he is to have to go, and to not be able to see his teachers every day any more. The heart of LePort is the teachers, individually and as a group. They are all a little different, they have put together a good mix of nice people with their own styles and personalities. Every single teacher at LePort actively engages the children in learning, and connects with them socially.

Kevin G.

The teachers at LePort inspire their students. They are all young and engaging – not teachers that have been doing it for 20 years, and are just going through the motions. Every one of them is sincerely concerned about a student’s personal growth. As they do the academics, they constantly talk about how they relate to the rest of life. All the teachers at LePort are the same way – they have a passion for their work, and it shows with the kids.

Lina S.

LePort’s teachers are consistently amazing. At other schools, you’d have a teacher here and there who would be great; their reputation is well known among parents and students—so you’d hope that your son/daughter was in their class at some point. The astonishing thing about LePort is that every single one of their teachers is excellent. The consistency is incredible: you never have to worry about which teacher your son/daughter will have the following year. To have an entire school of outstanding teachers speaks to their recruiting standards, their processes and how they train teachers as they come into the school. This is even more amazing given that all the LePort teachers are incredibly young!

Maritza A.

All the LePort teachers are excellent. I don’t think there was a bad teacher at LePort at all. Every one of them is an incredible professional, they are into their subjects, they are excited about teaching and learning. And that attitude transferred to the students.

Noreen M.

LePort teachers have what I like to call, “youthful enthusiasm”. This is probably due, in large part, to their clear philosophy that no teacher can teach a subject that they are not personally passionate about. If you think about that, it makes so much sense: if teachers love what they are teaching, that passion is present in every day classroom activity and that enthusiasm filters down to the students. It is apparent that the teachers feel supported. The equation is quite simple really: Happy teachers’ = happy students= happy parents.

Ruthie T.

I am really excited about the LePort teachers’ passion. My daughter will come home talking about history with such enthusiasm, that I even get excited and ask her questions about her history class! Because the teachers are so passionate, students become passionate—and go into real depth to explore the subjects. They become enthusiastic learners, and always ask to learn more. It’s a major contrast to some of our past experiences, where it appeared at times that the teachers didn’t want to teach the subjects, that they just went through the motions, to get the day done.

Tami W.

The passion and compassion of the teachers is rare—it is something that’s difficult to find. My younger daughter would just talk non-stop about her teachers, about how much she admired them, and how she respected them and enjoyed working with them. The LePort teachers took time to work with each of my girls, to help my older daughter fill in her knowledge gap due to illness, and to inspire my younger daughter to become an eager reader and writer. It also inspired my girls to be able to see a woman as amazing as Lindsay Journo, the head of school, and to dialogue with her every day: their teachers truly became role models – and that’s a hard thing to achieve in middle school.

Tom C.

1 reply
  1. Yusuf
    Yusuf says:

    It’s so true. Anyone can mindlessly ltiesn to a lesson but when you get the questions, that is where the learning takes place.A lot of the text of the Babylonian Talmud is in the context of asking questions and then providing answers just terse enough that the reader can then probe further. It’s best, of course, when done with a partner or group for that reason. Each person can bring up other questions and the learning continues.

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