Michelle Rhee believes that all children can achieve at a high level, given the proper teaching and support. Her thinking on this is admirable, but less so when it’s paired with passages like this, from a new New York magazine piece:
Rhee now describes teaching ability as something akin to an inborn talent, joking that no matter how much she practiced basketball, she could never play in the NBA like her fiancé Kevin Johnson, the former All-Star and current mayor of Sacramento. She created the New Teacher Project to identify other naturals.
Rhee would never accept the notion that some students are “natural” learners blessed with raw ability and others are not. So why would she insist that teaching is an inborn talent?
It’s certainly true that teachers, on any given day or week, have more at stake in their performance than do individual students. If a student performs poorly, only their learning is affected. If a teacher performs poorly, they’ve harmed an entire class of students (not to mention the fact that teachers are adults being paid to do an important job).
Rhee admits that she herself “sucked” as a teacher in her first year in the classroom. But she stuck with teaching, she worked really hard, and eventually she became a Teacher of the Year nominee. Her teaching talent wasn’t innate, and there wasn’t anything natural about it. It boiled down to setting high expectations for herself and doing anything she needed to do to meet them.
Some teachers may enter the profession and succeed immediately. Good for them. The vast majority of new teachers will need mentoring and practice, like Rhee did, in order to become effective. If, given those supports, they aren’t able to be successful in the classroom, they should consider a new profession. Teaching is a much bigger, much more complicated profession than being an NBA star, and it’s not helpful to see the nature-versus-nurture debate as an either-or.