So, how do you build a better teacher? Doug Lemov, founder of the Uncommon Schools charter network in the Northeast, is trying to figure this out:
The article follows Lemov through his exploration, and touches on the work of other high-profile experts like Deborah Loewenberg Ball, current Dean of the U-M School of Education, and Judith Lanier, who overhauled Michigan State University's teacher education programs. But the real focus is on Lemov, who created a taxonomy of what "teacher moves" that he has just published in a book (that is currently en route to my house) titled "Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on a Path to College".
But what makes a good teacher? There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try. When Bill Gates announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat. “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,” Gates said. “I’m personally very curious.”
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.
It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?
Green's piece also investigates how education schools actually approach preparing teachers for the classroom. Now that I have actually been through one of these programs, I feel slightly more qualified to contribute to the discussion about whether these programs are effective.
Traditionally, education schools divide their curriculums into three parts: regular academic subjects, to make sure teachers know the basics of what they are assigned to teach; “foundations” courses that give them a sense of the history and philosophy of education; and finally “methods” courses that are supposed to offer ideas for how to teach particular subjects. Many schools add a required stint as a student teacher in a more-experienced teacher’s class. Yet schools can’t always control for the quality of the experienced teacher, and education-school professors often have little contact with actual schools. A 2006 report found that 12 percent of education-school faculty members never taught in elementary or secondary schools themselves. Even some methods professors have never set foot in a classroom or have not done so recently.I have to give MAC some props, mostly because there really is a focus on literacy and teaching methods across content areas, even though past MAC graduates have routinely complained that they did not receive adequate preparation in classroom management techniques. I hear that from my classmates as well. My thinking on this has evolved and it reflects in part Lemov's findings. My mentor has said that classroom management in a general sense develops as you accumulate hours in the classroom, and because every teacher has their own style, it can't really be taught in the traditional way. But clearly Lemov has compiled this list of effective practices that every teacher can tweak to suit their content and their students. I still think that the idea of being "a natural" has merit, mostly because I'm told that I am one! And yet, it is reassuring to know that there are tangible techniques that can be taught. The key is to continue to reflect and try to improve.
Nearly 80 percent of classroom teachers received their bachelor’s degrees in education, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Yet a 2006 report written by Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College, the esteemed institution at Columbia University, assessed the state of teacher education this way: “Today, the teacher-education curriculum is a confusing patchwork. Academic instruction and clinical instruction are disconnected. Graduates are insufficiently prepared for the classroom.” By emphasizing broad theories of learning rather than the particular work of the teacher, methods classes and the rest of the future teacher’s coursework often become what the historian Diane Ravitch called “the contentless curriculum.”