I can't believe it's still necessary to point this out at this stage of the game, but based on some recent conversations, I'm guessing it bears repeating. So here we go.
When a reformer tells you that "teachers are the most important factor in student success," they are not trying to compliment us. They are not honoring us or acknowledging our importance as professionals. They are not being nice.
They are establishing that everything that happens in a classroom is the teacher's fault. They are saying that if a teacher is dropped on a desert island with nothing but a slate, two hundred starving students, and a piece of chalk, a Real Teacher would still turn all two hundred students into Rhoades Scholars. And if that doesn't happen? Well, it's not because of the island or the starving or the limited resources or the cockeyed student-teacher ration-- it's because the teacher failed. Apparently our Mr. Chips of the South Seas is not a Highly Effective Teacher.
Now, I do some good work, and if you drop me barehanded in front of a bunch of students, I will do a decent job. It's nice to have books and tech and paper and other resources, and it's easier if I don't have enough students in the room to fill a Econovan Clown Car. But I can't work miracles. I am at the bottom of the mountain that is my students' lives, and every rainstorm, all the water and debris and dust that it stirs up, that all comes downhill to me.
My co-operating teacher back in Cleveland Heights used to tell me that there are two rules for teaching. Rule #1 is that some students won't learn. Rule #2 is that there's nothing you can do to change rule #1.
That may overstate the case. But sometimes students will fail or fall short despite my best efforts, and I would have to be an egotistical idiot to believe that I am the most important and influential factor in their lives. I would have to be unconscious to have missed the news that study after study shows that the biggest predictor of school success is economic status.
So the next time somebody tries to "compliment" you by saying you're the biggest factor in a students' life, just say, "I'm trying be as large as I can, but I'm only human. I'll give my students all I can, but sometimes it's not enough. I'm just like a doctor. I'll try really hard, but I can't save every single patient."