In Chapter Six of What Great Teachers Do Differently, Whitaker writes, "Great teachers know who is the variable in the classroom: They are." Again, my first reaction was to quit reading. Variables are inconsistent, whimsical, and lack a bit of logic. I don't think that a great teacher is inconsistent as my initial reaction to the word might indicate.
But I wanted to give Whitaker the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he intended the word variable to connote the capability of changing. Which, if that is true, I can see his point. If we want to become great, we must recognize when our methods lack efficacy and change those methods. But, Whitaker's first paragraph under the subheading on page 37 reads:
How many of you could predict which teacher in your school will send the most students to the office next year? How about the year after that? When I ask a roomful of principals this question, pretty much every hand goes up. I then ask, "How can you possibly know this? Do you already have the student rosters made up?" The answer is very simple: They know because the main variable in a classroom is not the students. The main variable is the teacher.
So I remained frustrated with Whitaker. Maybe I am just not getting it, and if that is the case, I'd like clarification. But that example seems to show that teachers tend to have consistent behaviors, not inconsistent ones.
Throughout the chapter, Whitaker offers the premise that great teachers understand that student failure, in whatever capacity--behavior or academics, is the result of teacher action. Is it only because I am a classroom teacher that I find this belief incorrect? I hope not.
I take pride in analyzing my actions as a teacher. I feel aware of my failures. But, today when I tried to redirect my freshmen, when I tried proximity, when I tried direct statements and that one boy refused to take out a pencil to complete the assignment, I couldn't help but wonder how exactly that was my fault. Every other student in the room had his or her pencil out and worked actively. My behavior was consistent with my behaviors from the day before and with other students. So how was I the variable in that moment?
Whitaker is right, that great teachers anaylze their failures and change. But great teachers also understand that not every failure is their fault.