Teacher bashing has been a staple in conversations about school reform. Some reformers espouse that all we need is a better brand of teachers and all of education’s problems would disappear. As a consequence, the foundation of some reform plans is focused on teacher performance assessment based, in significant part, on standardized or value-added test scores.

As a consequence, the focus has been on teaching practices to improve test performance. The assumption is that if teachers follow ‘best practices’ high achievement will follow as measured on tests. The assumption is best practice equals higher scores equals best teachers. The conjecture undergirding this approach is that teaching is a technical or mechanical act, and that if teachers follow it, they will be effective teachers.

This approach misses a major fact. Teaching is about relationships, not simply instituting procedures or practices. Computer avatars can follow best practices and procedures of lesson design and implementation, but they cannot deal with or respond to students who come to school with varying emotional, social and philosophical perspectives and needs.

When asked about significant teachers who made a difference in their lives, people rarely mention practices and techniques. Instead, individuals highlight factors that are about the quality and nature of the relationship they had with the teacher and the teacher’s demeanor and care.

In essence, significant teachers listen, encourage, challenge, understand, motivate, question, and trust. They are principled role models who are demanding and ethical. They provide guidance and feedback, even if it is not what a student may want to hear, but they do it in a caring and loving way. Children feel safe to be themselves with them and are not afraid to try and fail because they have trust in their teacher.

Great teachers believe in the inherent goodness of the children under their care, teaching them by example. They put the needs of their students first and provide a reliable and firm guiding hand and never give up on children. Finally, they have a sense of humor and find joy in their work. All of these cannot be metrically measured. Just following a recipe or practices will not get you there, because authenticity and genuineness matter in connecting with children.

The impact of a great teacher may not be felt immediately or even over the course of the school year. Sometimes a teacher’s impact is understood only in retrospect and in the reflection of time. Significance is not measured on a value-added test or by an evaluator viewing classroom practices or lesson plans.

Evaluating teachers and measuring “significance” is not easy. We try to make it objective by throwing numbers at it via test scores. But none of us are our 10th grade standardized test metrics. I hope not! Great teachers have impact beyond their “doings” of implementing best practices. It is their “being” – their character, disposition, essence, uniqueness, and integrity — that make them significant.

We forget that it is far, far easier to teach skills of lesson design and implementation. Heart and passion come from a different place. Authenticity and genuineness is not simply a cognitive process.  Understanding how to work with children and others in a way that helps them fulfill themselves, find meaning and purpose, and a sense of wisdom cannot be reduced to simplistic processes, measurement, and metrics.

We all have experienced significant teachers who understood both the art and science of teaching and building constructive and compassionate relationships. And we are all thankful for those relationship and influence. None of us would be where we are without those teachers. We shouldn’t forget that.