A recent article proclaims that “The findings of several recent studies by psychologists, economists, and educators show that—despite many reformers’ claims to the contrary—it may be possible to make low-performing teachers better, instead of firing them.” (“How To Build a Better Teacher http://tinyurl.com/cnnl2pn)
Why would we think otherwise? How has the debate over teacher quality lost track of how excellence is developed in any field? It takes time, targeted practice, and the right support!
First, it takes 10,000 hours to reach excellence, as Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently documents in Outliers. That’s 10,000 hours–about 8 school years’ worth–with the right sort of coaching and support. Let’s be clear, too, that only actual teaching, lesson planning, assessment construction and analysis, and other core responsibilities count toward those hours, not preservice theory work (although that may guide practice).
A compilation of over 100 studies from many disciplines revealed, “When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all.”  True experts will list the mentors, coaches, teachers, and other supporters that guided their deliberate practice. Yet new teachers still get far less support than new professionals in other fields and often receive the most difficult assignments! “Teacher effectiveness” must be evaluated with this long, gradual learning curve in mind.
Second, change is hard–and leaders usually misjudge the needs of others during change. Teacher practices are usually tied to how they learn, which in turn is tied to their own personalities. When we ask them to change their classrooms, we are asking them to change who they are. Yet leaders seldom recognize the difficulty of change, the evidence needed to convince people of the need to change, and the varying kinds of communication and support they will need to implement and sustain change. I’ve done extensive research on how Personality Type provides a useful framework for coaching teachers for change, summarized in this journal article. JPT: Coaching Teachers for Change. It describes the needs of four very different teachers and the very different forms of instructional coaching that proved effective.
If we want teachers to meet the needs of every child and leave no child behind, how about if we model it by working to meet the needs of every teacher as they work to master the art and science of teaching so that no teacher is left behind?
 Ericsson, K., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T. (2007). The Making of an Expert. (cover story). Harvard Business Review, 85(7/8), p. 118