Making Better Teachers

I have had friends ask me what I think of our neighborhood school, and my answer is quite simple.  I tell them, “The school is only as good as the teacher your child has that year.”  I have believed this for a very long time. This stems from my belief that good teaching trumps everything when it comes to student achievement.  Analyze all the data you want, throw a bunch of acronyms at people (NCLB, RtI, IEP, DIBELS, FAPE, PBIS, Yada Yada Yada), and race to the top of wherever you want.  Yet, everything boils down to good teaching in the classroom.

This opinion is based on watching my own two children go through school and on my 23 years of experience as an educator .  Why is it that one child will have a great third grade experience while another one will not?   And then in fourth grade, the situation is reversed.  They attend the same school with the same curriculum, the same principal, the same assessments, the same materials, supplies, and technology.  Yet, their educational experiences differ greatly from year to year.

To a parent, it does not take a PhD from an Ivy League University to figure out why their children’s educational experiences are discrepant.  Obviously this is the result of the quality of the teacher they have each year.  As an educator, I can see the differences in teachers quite clearly so I spend countless hours talking to staff members about good teaching strategies and planning effective (hopefully) staff development activities all for the sake of improved instruction and class management.

I have wondered for a long time if excellent teaching is an innate gift that can’t be taught.  You either have it or you don’t.  It sure does not seem as if good teachers are developed in collegiate teacher education programs.  Nor do I think outstanding teaching is a self-taught skill.

Well, maybe the best teaching CAN be taught to teachers, and according to a terrific article in the March 7 New York Time Magazine titled “Can Good Teaching be Learned?” excellent teaching is a learned skill.

The article describes the work of Doug Lemov, a teacher, principal, and charter-school founder who has written a book called Teach Like a Champion:  The 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.  This book, which will be released in April, describes 49 specific teaching techniques (jokingly referred to as the “Lemov Taxonomy”)  that will make all teachers better.

I have read many books on good teaching and instruction, I have recommended many of these to colleagues of mine, and I have led staff book studies on the best ones.  However, if this book turns out to be as good as the NYT article describes, I think it could revolutionize teacher training for years to come.  Click on the cover of the book at the Amazon site, and check out the table of contents!  Do your teachers need to improve in some or all of these areas?

Maybe the way to make our schools the best in the world is to make our teachers the best in the world.

I can’t wait to get my copy!

(Cross-Posted on LeaderTalk)


5 thoughts on “Making Better Teachers

  1. Dave,

    After reading your post, I went and looked at the table of contents and placed my order. This book looks like what we need, a book that focuses on the art of teaching. After we finish analyzing test scores, disaggregating them 100 different ways, unpacking standards, pacing our years, and composing a host of common formative benchmark tests, we just might come to the conclusion that tere is only one thing left to do if we hope to improve student achievement: help teachers improve the craft of teaching.

    Down here in Alabama, we have a football coach we are pretty proud of right now. I recently read a book that he write several years ago (and have a post scheduled to appear on my blog about it in a few weeks). He doesn’t talk about setting winning the national championship as a goal. In fact, he is slow to talk about outcomes. He is all about the “process,” figuring if you do the right things on a daily basis, the rest takes care of itself. Seems to be working.

    In our profession, if we will spend more time figuring out what excellent in the classroom looks like, the test data will begin to take care of itself.

  2. So Dale, I am not really sure what you are talking about. Is wakeboarding a good thing for blogs or did you really mean “waterboarding” which is a form of torture? If it’s the latter and my blog is torturous, that’s kinda cool!

  3. I am always looking for books to enhance my library. As a future administrator I think this book will be an excellent tool in helping to guide staff into good practice. So many times teachers have been told to improve or new teachers need guidance and help. The suggestion is there to improve but often the guidance on HOW to improve is not. This book will be a valuable tool for anyone who is in education.

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