Saturday, March 13, 2010

Building a Better Teacher vs. Firing Bad Teachers

This is a fascinating article:  Building a Better Teacher on New York by Elizabeth Green March 2, 2010.

What I love about the article is that it is not full of blame for teachers.  It's not like the Newsweek cover story last week (full disclosure, I am a subscriber to Newsweek and usually love the content):  Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers.  In that article, it focused all of the attention on how teachers are to blame.  For example, 
Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate—an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and pedagogy. In any case the research shows that within about five years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who is not.
The article from Newsweek centers on the premise, that basically you can either teach or you can't teach.  I understand what they are saying, but that leads to --> "Fire the bad teacher."  And it is not what we are saying about our students, is it?  Do we say, "Kids can either learn or they can't learn!"  and "If they aren't learning, get them out of school those darn kids!"  No we don't.  We subscribe to the theory that all kids are capable of improving their learning.  So why should it be any different for the teacher?  Can't all teachers improve and do better for their kids?  Isn't it much more economically efficient to improve the current stock of teachers and make their jobs more meaningful to them and our students by helping them improve?

That's why I like the article in the NY Times so much.  It focuses on a man named Doug Lemov who comes to a realization.  The biggest problem?  It isn't finding "voodoo" teachers who are just born to do the job.  It isn't firing all the "bad" teachers.  It is about helping those who truly want to make a difference improve their performance.  He noticed some techniques and teaching methods that are simple, but actually do show results:

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.
I'm curious what you think about all this?  I'm sure the real answer is somewhere in between.  Are there teachers that need to be removed from the job?  Most definitely.  Are there teachers who would show remarkable improvement if given some support, techniques and help?  Absolutely there would be.  But, how will you know who they are until you apply the support in the first place?  We have to start trying.

Of course, a lot of the burden falls on the teacher.  If you are going to sit there and say, "My school won't support me," well, you have already lost.  Get out on the internet and find help.  Take professional development over the summer.  Seek out mentor teachers.  Observe classes - good and bad.  Find ways to improve and keep tweaking what you do.  By putting the effort into it, it is my opinion that you will naturally begin to improve.  From good to great.

Check out some of the impressive video clips that Lemov has put together:   
Teaching Techniques: Published: March 2, 2010
Head of the Class
In these video clips from actual classrooms around the country, Doug Lemov, founder of the charter-school network Uncommon Schools, analyzes techniques that effective teachers use to get students to pay attention and follow instructions.


  1. thanks for sharing the link! I watched some youtube clips from uncommon school this morning and plan on trying a few new things this week. Thanks for encouraging & inspiring us!

  2. I am going to have to look for those youtube links. Thanks for reading and commenting. I am hoping this will be a very positive place where teachers can exchange ideas. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for your support.


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