Teaching Teachers To Teach


export_-_1_cropIt’s no secret that our schools, in general, are not doing the best they could be at educating our children.  Some blame the teachers, saying they are slackers who only teach because they aren’t qualified to do anything else.  Others put the blame on parents who don’t take time to emphasize the importance of education at home and who can’t — or won’t — support teachers by working with their children to reinforce what they have learned in class.  In reality, it’s probably some of both.  There are certainly a lot of hard-working, dedicated teachers out there, but some are more effective than others — what if we could make every teacher as good as the best teachers?  Some researchers think they have the means to do that.

Doug Lemov has spent the last five years studying how teachers teach and cataloging the techniques the best of them use to help their students learn.  He has compiled them into a how-to manual called “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College” and due out this spring.  With techniques such as “Positive Framing” (number 43) wherein a teacher offers “a vision of a positive outcome” and the “Cold Call” (number 22) in which the teacher chooses a student to answer a question rather than asking for volunteers — to force every child to figure out the answer in case they are called upon.

Lemov, however, isn’t the only one looking at improving the way we train teachers.  Deborah Loewenberg Ball developed a program called Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching which not only covers common math, but also teacher-oriented ideas like which tools to use to teach a concept and the sorts of errors children make when learning math.  Teachers need to know why a student might think 307 minus 168 would equal 261.  “Teaching depends on what other people think,” Ball explained, “not what you think.”

In reading this article, I got very excited.  While I am a huge supporter of teachers, I recognize that there are some who need help developing the skills they need to be more successful — sometimes enthusiasm and dedication are not enough on their own.  This was the first article that I’d read in a long time that didn’t just blame teachers but offered hope that they can learn techniques to do their job better.  I’d say that’s pretty darn important because, after all, they have the most important job in the world — preparing our children for the future.

Photo: arundo