Issues in Schooling
One of the challenges that parents face is the schooling of our children. Among the many issues in schooling, three stand out:
1) Lots of material to master in a full dual curriculum day.
2) Many schools have insufficient resources.
3) A lack of truly great teachers.
Lack of Great Teachers is a Recognized Problem
Well it seems that a lack of great teachers is a problem shared across all American schools as discussed in a worth-reading article in the NY Times on Sunday titled Building a Better Teacher:
Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a halfâ€™s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year.
You Can Build a Better Teacher
Creating incentives for good teachers and firing bad teachers is being tried across the country but it is not producing better learning in students. Doug Lemov a teacher and education consultant thinks the smarter path to boosting student performance is to improve the quality of the teachers who are already teaching.
Lemov decided to seek out the best teachers he could find â€” as defined partly by their studentsâ€™ test scores â€” and learn from them. This five-year project produced a 357-page treatise known among its hundreds of underground fans as Lemovâ€™s Taxonomy. (The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is â€œTeach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.â€)
Central to Lemovâ€™s argument is a belief that students canâ€™t learn unless the teacher succeeds in capturing their attention and getting them to follow instructions. Educators refer to this art, sometimes derisively, as â€œclassroom management.â€
All Lemovâ€™s techniques depend on his close reading of the studentsâ€™ point of view, which he is constantly imagining. In Boston, he declared himself on a personal quest to eliminate the saying of â€œshhâ€ in classrooms, citing what he called â€œthe fundamental ambiguity of â€˜shh.â€™ Are you asking the kids not to talk, or are you asking kids to talk more quietly?â€ A teacherâ€™s control, he said repeatedly, should be â€œan exercise in purpose, not in power.â€ So there is Warm/Strict, technique No. 45, in which a correction comes with a smile and an explanation for its cause â€” â€œSweetheart, we donâ€™t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.â€
After discussing Lemov and his techniques, the article goes further and asks: Is good classroom management enough to ensure good instruction? It discusses teachers who are focused on reaching every student such a Katie Bellucci, who had been teaching for only two months, yet her fifth-grade math class was both completely focused on her and completely quiet.
Lately Bellucci and her mentor teacher, Eli Kramer, a dean of curriculum and instruction at Troy who also splits fifth-grade math responsibilities with Bellucci, have advanced to a technique called No Opt Out. The concept is deceptively simple: A teacher should never allow her students to avoid answering a question, however tough. â€œIf Iâ€™m asking my students a question, and I call on somebody, and they get it wrong, I need to work on how to address that,â€ Bellucci explained in February. â€œItâ€™s easy to be like, â€˜No,â€™ and move on to the next person. But the hard part is to be like: â€˜O.K., well, thatâ€™s your thought. Does anybody disagree? . . . I have to work on going from the student who gets it wrong to students who get it right, then back to the student who gets it wrong and ask a follow-up question to make sure they understand why they got it wrong and understood why the right answer is right.â€
Please read the whole article here.
What Can We Do?
What can we do to help our teachers become better? I think for starters we can start the conversation by sending the NY Times article to the principals and the teachers we know. When Lemov’s book comes out in April, buy a copy, read it and lend it to as many teachers as you can. Our schools want to be the best they can be and my experience has been they are receptive to constructive suggestions.