Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Explosive book for a new teacher generation

A storm is brewing in teacher training in America. It involves a generational change that we education writers don’t deal with much, but is more important than No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top grants or other stuff we devote space to. Our urban public schools have many teachers in their twenties and thirties who are more impatient with low standards and more determined to raise student achievement than previous generations of inner city educators, having seen some good examples. But they don’t know what exactly to do.

This new cohort is frustrated with traditional teacher training. They think most education schools are too fond of theory (favorite ed school philosopher John Dewey died in 1952 before many of their parents were born) and too casual about preparing them for the practical challenges of teaching impoverished children.

So they are welcoming a new book. Much-underlined versions of it have been passed around like samizdat literature. Its title, “Teach Like A Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College,” sounds phony. But the origins of this 332-page paperback, plus DVD, suggest education schools, and local teacher evaluation systems like those in D.C. and Montgomery County, are going to have to deal with it or wish they had.

The author, Doug Lemov, 42, is a managing director of Uncommon Schools, one of the high-performing public charter schools networks leading the charge against school district bureaucracies and old ways of training. He has watched and videoed the moves made and the words spoken by the most successful classroom teachers he knows, then written down the techniques they share.

There is much detail. I was exhausted just reading it. First of the 49 techniques is “No Opt Out,” what you do when a student says she can’t answer your question or doesn’t respond at all. You move to other students, and when you get the right answer return to the first student and insist she repeat what she just heard, proving no one can excuse themselves from your class. Number 38 is “Strong Voice,” speaking clearly and forcefully while standing still in a way that makes it difficult for students NOT to hear what you are saying. Number 49 is “Normalizing Error,” responding to a wrong answer with a quick and non-judgmental effort to get the right one, so students realize that making mistakes is just part of the learning process.

For an technical book aimed at teachers, “Teach Like a Champion” is getting big play, including a March 7 cover story in the New York Times Magazine by editor Elizabeth Green. Whether that will produce big results is not so clear.

Many education schools are taking steps in this direction, particularly with video. But Lemov provides more detail than many of them are comfortable with. One professor told me education students can’t be motivated to embrace such methods until they are in a rough classroom fighting to survive. The ed schools give them theory and practice in digestible form, and send them off. If they don’t get a good mentor teacher, they are in trouble.

Teachers creating new evaluation systems in D.C. and Montgomery share some of Lemov’s impatience. What he is offering is hard, and easy to dismiss it as too minimal, too routinized, too basic. Whether it succeeds depends on how many of the restless new generation of teachers are willing to work that hard, when some experts say they don’t need it and the pay isn’t that good anyway.
But as Lemov puts it, methods that work as well as these make the school day go much more quickly and smoothly, and justify the high hopes of this new group of educators.

Read Jay's blog every day at

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page,

By Jay Mathews  | April 25, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion, Uncommon schools, detailed teaching methods that work, no opt out  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The irksome myth about Garfield after Escalante
Next: Teacher contract funds solution: make Rhee stay


Just back from the Math Teachers Convention (NCTM). One exhibitor kept Lemov's book under the table and then pulled it out to show me, when he realized, "I would understand." Pretty funny. My copy was home. Reading it now.

While I didn't mind ed school (nice people); it was just a mandated payoff to colleges to allow me to teach. I learned so little for so much time lost. Sad. Every ed school is the same: some value, just pay to play. I've never met a teacher who disagrees with the last statement. However, some teachers claim to have learned a little bit more than I did, and, frankly, most students didn't want to learn very much any way. It's all about the right to teach in public schools.

Posted by: OrangeMath | April 25, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't much care about Lemov either way--most of his stuff I already do, some I disagree with.

But OrangeMath is dead right about ed school. It's just an income transfer, either to a state school or a private university. Pay to play, with some value.

The idea that there's some massive group of 20-30 year old teacher thumbing the book like a bible is pretty funny, though. It's mostly because the kids becoming teachers are such well-bred do-gooders that they have no idea how to be tough.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 26, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

The book sounds practical for those who are not intuitive but to use a rough analogy and inserting tongue firmly in cheek with the wrong metaphor... "no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy."

I can see the newbie - turning pages of the book to see what to do or say now for each situation. That must be a long book.

Posted by: hotrod3 | April 26, 2010 1:29 AM | Report abuse

I'll be the one to stand up and disagree. I graduated from college 15 years ago and my education school experience was wonderful. I spent time in elementary classrooms from the first ed class forward and those experiences played a big part in what we did in our college classes. That time wasn't perfect, but I wouldn't have wanted to start teaching without it.

Lemov's book has been on my summer reading list since it starting flying around the blogs weeks ago.

Posted by: Jenny04 | April 26, 2010 6:17 AM | Report abuse

I have a very simple solution. If you want to improve the quality of teaching in our public schools, bust the unions and get rid of tenure.

Posted by: lisamc31 | April 26, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

"For an technical book aimed at teachers, “Teach Like a Champion” is getting big play, including a March 7 cover story in the New York Times Magazine by editor Elizabeth Green. Whether that will produce big results is not so clear."

Black is white and white is black.

Posted by: edlharris | April 26, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

New teachers just want a job, you putz!

Earth to Mathews: you are so far away from the real world of the teacher in America you might as well live on another planet.

Posted by: natturner | April 26, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

to lisamc31 comment:
This is very ignorant. Generally, you can argue about the strategies proposed by unions but you would be hard pressed to say they do not have the interest of the students at heart.
Second, Massachusetts, completely unionized school system, consistently has the highest test scores in the nation. Further, the CASS lines up with NESS indicating the students might actually be learning something other than how to do a specific test.
To Jay Matthews: You tout NCLB and Race to the Top by not qualifying them in your your article as questionable at best. It causes me to infer you are attracted to gimmicky shoot from the hip solutions.
Efforts to treat the symptoms of poverty, (such as low performance at school) by beating up on teachers is ignorant.

Posted by: zebra22 | April 26, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I love Lemov's book. Terrific. It isn't a manual, but it has the right focus. Students and their learning. Wow. A breath of fresh air.

Take him with Dan Willingham and just watch the kids flourish.

Posted by: EduCrazy | April 26, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse


I just walk into the Benjamon Building at UMCP with the book in hand and the NEA and AFT goons at the door took me down and interrogated me.
"Who gave you this book- Jay Mathews? Andrew Rotherham? Michelle Rhee? Joel Klein? Deborah Gist?"
They were not happy.

The interrogation was similar to this:

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | April 26, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I haven't read this book, but it sounds like it can have some good, practical ideas for teachers. I am not convinced that reading a book or even training from one would cover everything a teacher would need to know. To be a good teacher, you have to know how to be flexible and still be consistent. I look forward to reading this, but I wonder about these 40 something things. Isn't that a lot to be thinking about as you are teaching?

Training teachers on the practical everyday management of classrooms and students is extremely important. I do believe that teachers would benefit from working with challenging kids, before they get into their own classrooms.

I have always enjoyed workshops and education programs. But they were lacking in the practical stuff like what to do when a kid walks in late and starts hitting everybody on the way to his desk on the head. I know, I know, have a late policy and good rapport and this will never happen, but, sometimes stuff doesn't work, so then what?

This book sounds to me a little like Harry Wong's "The First Days of School". That was one of the more practical books I ever found. I have found that your subject area or grade level, the district you are in, and your own personality, effect what is going to work for you and your students. this book may be great, but I hope the author realizes not everyone has the same strengths, and that what makes one teacher great in a certain school won't work in another school with different kids and a different culture (here, I mean school culture, not ethnicity or family background).

Posted by: celestun100 | April 26, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

The title claims a little too much, I think. As a parent, I have put my own children on a path to college. They will go to college in spite of educational reforms that are having them spend too much time on passing tests because I have read to them since they were babies, and I have always encouraged them in math, science, foreign languages, music and art. We don't have the TV on and my kids do math puzzles to earn computer time and little stuff that I see other people give their kids for "free". I tell them to respect their teachers and if they tell me negative stuff about the teacher I explain to them the teacher's side of the story. At this age it is usually just telling them that the teacher may have made a strict rule that the kids don't like, but it is for their safety or whatever. I have heard neighbors tell me that their fourth graders can "tell" that a teacher is bad, because they are very "discerning" (the fourth grader is discerning). Well, ok, I think, and what good does it do your own child to know that you don't respect the teacher?

As teachers we do effect what kids learn and if they go to college, but a large component goes back to the families. Parents and teachers have to work together. Maybe all that is in the book?

Posted by: celestun100 | April 26, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

So you're in a favor of replacing theory with a bunch of unmotivated dictums? I'm no fan of ed schools, but from what I can tell this book is like lots of other self-help "X Steps to a Better Y" books in that it's full of anecdotal evidence and unsupported but confident assertions. Has there ever been a controlled study demonstrating that any one of Lemov's techniques A) works and B) can be taught? It certainly didn't seem so from the NYT piece.

Posted by: qaz1231 | April 26, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

My mother had the same complaints about ed school fifty years ago.

Nothing will be done with the schools until we figure out a way to get those students who didn't like school to become teachers. Right now the brightest kids or the most creative kids hate the way they are "educated" and won't consider teaching. Thus, most of the people teaching are those who liked their school days, so they see no reason to change. Perhaps more programs like "Teach for America," that encourage people to teach for a short time and then go on to other things (or teach for a short time as a second career) will make a difference. Another difference would be to insist that every teacher--k through 12--have at least a bachelor degree in an academic subject, with only a few education courses for certification. This would lead to teachers with wider experience in learning and encourage more interest in changing the system and encourage more people to enter teaching by killing the generally believed stereotype that "those who can't, teach."

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 26, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I didn't attend an Education school. I am a music teacher so I studied music education--basically a regular music degree with performance emphasis with the education classes added in. The regular ed. classes were so so. The music ed. classes which tackled specific methodology in my content area were extremely valuable. Teaching in a classroom situation is vastly different than private instruction so the methodology is really necessary.

From Jay's description of this book, it sounds like a lot of common sense issues to me. Some people have it and some don't. Some teachers "read" their classes well and adjust their instruction to meet the needs of the students in each class. I teach 20 different classes and each one has a distinct collective personality which is taken into account when planning for them. Bottom line is that teacher and student personality plays a big part in how successful one will be in the classroom. The irony is that many school systems have moved to scripted curricula with the intent of removing teacher personality from the picture. How smart can that be?

Posted by: musiclady | April 26, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

One aspect of education that education classes for future teachers seem to me to neglect is the fact that most students have parents. It is often assumed that a classroom is a hermetically-sealed, self-contained unit. But parents have the right to burst the little classroom bubble, and some take spiteful delight in doing so. They are fighting for their little darling.

I had some teacher training for ESL with some teachers who had previously taught other subjects. Quite often, they would snort with derision at the advice we were given. "If I did that, I'd have twenty parents down on me like a ton of bricks, whining that their child had "special difficulties" and needed special treatment, too!" I remember one saying.

This is just as bad, I think, as assuming that each lesson should be a discrete entity with its own goals, shape and climax, whereas in real life in an everyday classroom, you may have a brief on-going activity to start every lesson (so that everyone eventually gets a chance to do that type of task), then a follow-up to yesterday's lesson, then the introduction of a new idea ...

Posted by: penkuhn | April 26, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Politicians know that if a scapegoat can be found, if an evil other can be found, the public will buy it. Teachers are the perfect scapegoat for students' poor performance in schools. Teachers unions that have given teachers a voice and improved work conditions and pay are the perfect scapegoat. Question is, are teachers really so less qualified than in years past when, apparently, students were learning? Or, have priorities changed in school districts with administration being top-heavy resulting in crowded classrooms and cuts in much needed and valuable physical education and arts classes? But, more than any other factors,I think, the social issues of lack of health care, poor nutrition, and parents working two-three jobs each to survive contributes to more and more children coming to school unprepared and unable to learn. I've been a teacher since 1981. I've seen the difference in the children year by year.

Posted by: seethewest | April 26, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Haven't read the book(s) in question, so I can't comment on them.
Can comment on the posting, though. It appears to be more of the same-old axe grinding.

Interesting that the three techniques Mathews chose as examples all involve a teacher-centered, right-answer approach. Representative of the book? If so, perhaps it should have been titled "Indoctrinate Like A Champion..." Or perhaps the examples chosen just reflect Mathews's biases...

Posted by: jetchs | April 26, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

"we figure out a way to get those students who didn't like school to become teachers. "

I am a student who hated school and I talked about this all the time in ed school. Everyone was always going on and on about "getting kids to like school", and I would object. Lots of kids don't like school. The trick is to get them to understand the system and get through it as best they can. This was one of the reasons I ran into trouble.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 26, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I am like Cal_Lanier, hated school and now teach. The art of teaching has come easily to me becuase I saw many examples of how not to do it when I was a student. The number one lesson I can pass on is: listen to your students, they are likely smarter than you.

The best teaching advice I ever received in grad school was just before I taught my first undergrad course. My grad advisor said,"Don't be a d*ck!"

Posted by: professor70 | April 26, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I hate to break it to lisamc31, but even schools with no unions and no tenure face the same problems. It would be politically nice to blame them but the evidence is clearly otherwise.

Posted by: mdennis74 | April 26, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I have watched as universities have come into different school systems to do a study. Lo and behold what did they find out? Your teachers need more classes. What do they sell? More classes!
There are definitely good and bad teachers, but in states like Virginia the curriculum has been set by standardized tests. There are so many different ingredients in the educational outcome soup,it takes talented administrators and central office people to know the needs of their district. Oh and one other thing....
Right now schools and teachers are the only entities being held responsible for kids. With the lack of responsibility in society and parents (not all but too many) we're lucky the kids are as good as they are!

Posted by: benathornton1 | April 26, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Please, not another book and video. Every couple years 'someone' has 'the answer' and school districts waste TONS of money on this stuff which really makes no difference. Want our students to get better grades: make sure the parent is involved.

Posted by: KevinTinMD | April 26, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm with EduCrazy. Teach Like a Champion is incredible.

Teach Like a Champion + Daniel Willingham ("Why Kids Don't Like School") + Core Knowledge = my son would still be attending public school.

And I might be voting 'yes' on school budgets and bonds.

Posted by: cijohn | April 26, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

"Interesting that the three techniques Mathews chose as examples all involve a teacher-centered, right-answer approach. Representative of the book? If so, perhaps it should have been titled "Indoctrinate Like A Champion...""

Teach Like a Champion is direct instruction all the way.

That's what we parents (at least two-thirds of us, according to the surveys I've seen) like about it.

And that's what public schools refuse to provide our children, who are expected to "discover" and "construct" knowledge in the context of projects they have no interest in doing and can't do without parent help.

I support parents who wish their children to construct knowledge. It's fine to have constructivist schools for those who want them.

But where are the instructivist schools for the rest of us?

Posted by: cijohn | April 26, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

There are some essential moves to teaching that graduate schools of education have been reluctant to inculcate into beginning teachers. This is mistaken. Ed schools should have done more of such work rather than thinking a fascinating lesson would rivet the attention of all students. The reality is that a terrific lesson plan will always fail if kids aren’t attending.

However, there is more to good teaching than simply getting your automatic moves down so kids attend, hear directions, and participate productively in class.

So while I agree about the automaticity of moves that can be practiced to gain student attention in classrooms, the real question, then, is what NEXT? Once you have kids quiet and attentive, then what?

Lamov is a tad naïve in suggesting that ALL we need is attentive kids. Once you have quiet and attentive kids, you then need teachers who actually know something at a deep COGNITIVE level about the content that they are trying to teach.

Once kids gain initial levels of proficiency, my worry is that lots of schools pat themselves on the back (rightfully so) and say “look at what we did.
Yes. Good. But the real question is what do the teachers do next? These kids are proficient often by the 10th grade. Do these teachers increase the cognitive demand, do they release the scaffolding that got these tightly managed kids to proficiency on state tests, do they to allow them to explore, do they allow the students to develop self actualizing agency, do they actually encourage the kids to think up their own important questions rather than always answering someone else’s questions?
That is the mark of a true teacher

Posted by: katherinemerseth | April 26, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

"The ed schools give them theory and practice in digestible form, and send them off. If they don’t get a good mentor teacher, they are in trouble."

Could be a message there, if only we can figure out what it is.

Posted by: Trev1 | April 26, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

It is not just those teachers in their 20's and 30's who are frustrated with teacher training. In my school district, professional development was implemented as a punishment and with very little relevance to what teachers do in the classroom.

I started teaching in 1970's. As long as only teachers are the one's with the bull's eye on their backs, our education system will never improve to the level that we all aspire.

Along with improved teacher training, there needs to be more training for Principals. Far too many Principals have no adult management skills. Just last week, the Principal in my building pullled about a half dozen teachers out of instruction to inform them that they would be moved to another grade level next year. Some of these teachers will be retiring in the next year or two. Is that in the best interest's of children?

This is the same Principal who is a stickler about what we wear, especially our shoes. This is the same Principal who would not laminate my kindergartners' art book cover because "We don't laminate children's art work."

In my many years as a teacher, as a parent, and as the President of the local education association, I want to tell you, Jay, there are more incompetent Principals than teachers.

Posted by: ilcn | April 26, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

This book is not just for newbies. I have 22 years of teaching experience and am National Board Certified, and I love this book. Many of the techniques are "intuitive" to me--but it took me several years to figure some of them out, and I use others because they were modeled for me by my parents (both teachers). There are other techniques that are new to me--I am really excited about trying them in my classroom.

This book cannot replace formal teacher training, because there is SO much more to know, so much more to practice, so much more to discuss with colleagues and teachers. The section about backwards planning is fabulous (surprisingly, not everyone does it)--but it takes a lot of practice to get it right--one could build an entire college course around backwards design. This book should be the basis for a course required for ALL new teachers --and EVERY teacher in America should have a copy of it. Yes, I have colleagues with two decades of experience who don't use a single one of these techniques, because they've never been exposed to them.

I've read a lot of books on "how to be a better teacher;" this is the only one that has ever made sense to me. Fabulous book!

Posted by: pattipeg1 | April 26, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

I am familiar with these strategies, as they were unsuccessfully introduced at my school this year. My primary issue with the book (well, at least with the DVD; I haven't read the book) is that the majority of the examples are from elementary classrooms, and don't easily translate to urban high school classroom settings. I would be interested in seeing each classroom management strategy playing out in elementary, middle and high school...for those of you who are familiar with the book and DVD, are there examples of this?

As an aside, I was trained to be a teacher at an excellent graduate school. I was FAR more prepared to enter the classroom than my peers that went the alternate certfication route; I wish folks would stop bashing colleges and universities that train teachers. Truthfully, it sounds like a lot of bandwagon-jumping.

Posted by: JustUs5 | April 26, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I have two stepdaughters, one in third and one in fourth grade. They don't spell nearly as well as my generation did, even though they are good readers and don't watch a lot of TV or play a lot of computer games. Meanwhile, I see handouts from their teachers and administrators with terrible spelling and grammar errors--and they are in one of the top three elementary schools in a well-regarded school system. The joke when I was in college (early 80s) was that Ed School students were the bottom of the barrel, and I would agree, having seen the verbal skills of my stepdaughters' teachers. Bottom line is that the schools just aren't as good as they used to be. Even top-tier colleges have to do remedial work with a large proportion of their freshmen.

Posted by: cpcville | April 26, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

" I haven't read the book) is that the majority of the examples are from elementary classrooms, and don't easily translate to urban high school classroom settings"

This is my huge beef with ed school in general. All the literature applies to elementary school kids and has next to no application for high school.

And I, too, went to an excellent grad ed school--first or second in the country. I chose that route because alternate routes are, if anything, longer. I worked 20 hours a week for free for a year and yes, it was those 20 hours that were the best preparation for teaching. But why should public schools get my labor for free?

I enjoyed my year at ed school, when they weren't actively trying to get rid of me. But ed school is all about One Answer, when all prospective teachers would be better served by realistic discussion of the difficulties.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 26, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree with Celestun100.

When my sons were little I received excellent advice from a mother who sent all five of her children to "first-tier" universities. When asked about her parenting practices, she told me that she followed the interests of each child. (Yes, this is Dewey). When her oldest expressed an interest in biology she took him to the library to check out books that answered his questions. Today that child is an internationally known heart researcher.

Anyway I followed her advice and was richly rewarded for my efforts. Basically I just kept the joy of learning alive for my sons. I tried to do the same for my students until NCLB came along and administrators started insisting on test prep. That approach is sure to turn off any child. Fortunately I was old enough to retire.

There is something offensive about all us middle-class professionals (and yes, this includes Jay) offering enriched activities for our own children while the poor are treated to a diet of drill and practice. It's a recipe for failure.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 26, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

All of you people that start by saying, "I haven't read the book, but. . . " and then talk about how it must be wrong -- you should really give the book a chance. Open it. Read some of it. There is much joy and enthusiasm in there. Lemov is not pushing a drill and practice regimen to pass state tests.

The successful teachers in Lemov's books are absolutely not punishing kids or making learning drudgery. I'd send my kids to these schools -- the teachers Lemov follows are better than anything we have seen in our wealthy suburban town.

Posted by: EduCrazy | April 26, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

Every school should hand this book to new teachers IN JULY just like an NFL team hands a new player a playbook. This is the most concise, workable, 'teacher instruction manual' I've ever read. Demov writes in 'teacher talk vs. 'ed. school talk,' which makes it understood easily by us practicing classroom warriors.

Oh yeah; EVERY teacher should have this book, regardless of your years in the classroom. I've been around the block a few times, yet found 'Teach Like A Champion' a compendium of the great practices I've seen or picked up from other great teachers.


Posted by: pdfordiii | April 26, 2010 11:26 PM | Report abuse

"They think most education schools are too fond of theory (favorite ed school philosopher John Dewey died in 1952 before many of their parents were born)..." Good point; anyone who's been gone for a couple of generations couldn't possibly have anything worthwhile to say about contemporary social issues. Sorry, Einstein, Darwin, Edison, Jefferson, Jesus...

Full disclosure: I'm a university-based teacher educator. And I've read Lemov's book. Some of the examples therein are commendable, while others are common-sensical. Most of them fail to approximate the kinds of interaction and colleagueship that characterize many professionals' work today. (E.g., can you imagine sitting down at a team meeting and having your supervisor show up and bellow, "Pencils down, show me SLANT!" - which stands for sit up, listen, ask, nod along, and track the speaker?)

One of the questions that remains obscured by Lemov's book and many discussion I've seen about it (including Mathews's) is this: teaching like a champion to what ends? Why "college preparation, of course." But what do we want students to know and be able to do? Debate controversial political issues in a rational, responsible way? Apply mathematical and scientific concepts to original questions and collaborative solutions? Know a bunch of factual minutiae to recall for a test and bring up to impress friends at a cocktail party? Fight for social change? Fight to maintain the social and political status quo? Follow the law, vote on occasion, pay taxes, and otherwise keep quiet? Simply score well on a bunch of entrance exams, notwithstanding anything else? And who's responsibility is it to contribute to discussions around these questions? Based on my reading of Lemov's book, there's no sense that teachers, as professionals, play much of a role in that at all.

Finally, it seems bizarre that many consider Lemov's inferences about teaching based on hundreds of observations of classroom teachers to be valid, while university researchers who build upon constructivist and sociocultural theories of learning using similar approaches - hundreds of observations of students learning - are dismissed. Clearly the bottom line is that we at the university level simply are poorer salespeople and lobbyists for our own causes. Maybe it's because we spend too much time working closely with preservice educators and conducting research on learning and teaching.

Posted by: KandJM | April 26, 2010 11:52 PM | Report abuse

Funny, I'm currently taking a break from working on my ed school homework assignment to read today's Post. I'll second (or thirty-fifth, more like) the statement that ed school is mostly a waste of time. I've taught for years in a private school, and yet I still need to take classes such as "Foundations of Education" before I'm allowed to teach in a public school. I'm stunned at the low level of work I'm asked to do, and the fact that many of my classmates are asking for ways to raise their grade frankly scares me.

Posted by: MissSos | April 26, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, pdfordiii, but as an education school person who spent years in the classroom beforehand - most of us have - I take exception to this: Lemov "writes in 'teacher talk' vs. 'ed. school talk,' which makes it understood easily by us practicing classroom warriors." That would be like an oncologist saying, "I read this new book about cancer treatment, and thank goodness the author uses language we practicing physicians can understand, instead of that language they used back in medical school." If you were a cancer patient and overheard your oncologist saying such a thing, I'm assuming you'd find another doctor; why should it be different in teaching?

Pdfordiii's response to Lemov's book supports an anti-intellectual conception of teaching - a sense that expertise equates with tricks in a bag rather than deep content knowledge and the ability to transform that in a way that's powerful to kids who have little experience with or interest in it. This is not to say that building a classroom that's well disciplined isn't important; but it is problematic to suggest that maintaining eye contact with students, for example, and not taking "I don't know" for an answer is mutually exclusive from, say, teaching history by giving students opportunities to interrogate and build their own narratives from original sources (which is supported by research on learning AND observations of effective teaching practice in history).

Posted by: KandJM | April 27, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

We hope this distilation and instruction manual does not do for students' expectations of good teaching what Playboy did modeling female sexuality and setting male expectations of it for fifty years.

"Power corrupts, and PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."
------- Vint Cerf

Posted by: incredulous | April 27, 2010 1:05 AM | Report abuse

"Clearly the bottom line is that we at the university level simply are poorer salespeople and lobbyists for our own causes."

The bottom line is that Doug Lemov chose the teachers he observed on the basis of student achievement results:

"A self-described data geek, he went about this task methodically, collecting test-score results and demographic information from states around the country. He plotted each school’s poverty level on one axis and its performance on state tests on the other. Each chart had a few outliers blinking in the upper-right-hand corner — schools that managed to squeeze high performance out of the poorest students. He broke those schools’ scores down by grade level and subject. If a school scored especially high on, say, sixth-grade English, he would track down the people who taught sixth graders English."

March 7, 2010
NY Times Magazine
Building a Better Teacher

Posted by: cijohn | April 27, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Great discussion, pointing up vagueness in some of what I said. Indeed, Lemov waves the flag of teacher-centered instruction. At least I got that across. As for the need for a good mentor teacher after ed school, I was trying to say that the ed schools, most of them, spoon feed theory and practice they think new teachers should know, but they don't do a lot of practice and practice and more practice, which is what Lemov and others like him---I wrote about a similar training method at the MATCH public charter school in Boston a few weeks ago---want to happen.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 27, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with cijohn -- Lemov picked his teachers based on who was getting spectacular results with the very students the rest of you seem to have written off -- kids from poverty without a strong support system at home.

Sure, we'd love to see some parents do a better job. But Lemov is truly breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. Everything these teachers are doing (and doing it year after year, these aren't flukes) flies in the face of ed school and conventional wisdom. Teachers can make a difference, even when the deck seems to be stacked against the kids.

The other thing Lemov does is remove the elements of "success" from the mystical. What works can be taught to other teachers.

Posted by: EduCrazy | April 27, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Helloooo! Is there anyone else out there who managed to become a happy, successful, highly skilled teacher without spending one penny on graduate school education courses? (I'm speaking mainly to middle school and high school teachers.)I majored in English, took the required number of undergraduate education courses (at the time, only 9-12 credits) and did a term of student teaching. Then I graduated, put on my "teacher shoes", and happily pursued a Master's degree in English literature at night while I taught junior high school (and then high school) English during the day. This was also the path followed by most of my teaching buddies. I was paying for my own graduate school, so I was going to get my degree in something I enjoyed.Later on, I went for a second Master's degree in Journalism, and, while I had gone into the program for the development of my own writing, I also learned techniques that easily transferred to my own classroom. Are all of you getting free/reduced-rate tuition for a Master's degree in Education, and if not, why aren't you doing graduate study in your subject area or in a related field? In fact, why aren't programs such as the New York City Teaching Fellows encouraging (and paying for) their secondary school teachers to go for a Master's in their specific disciplines? It's almost anti-intellectual, as if they don't want (or need)middle school or high school teachers to be too "smart", while at the same time, demanding that all teachers be "highly qualified." Very strange.

Posted by: ksherwood1 | April 27, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

"Pdfordiii's response to Lemov's book supports an anti-intellectual conception of teaching - a sense that expertise equates with tricks in a bag rather than deep content knowledge and the ability to transform that in a way that's powerful to kids who have little experience with or interest in it."

I've taught in urban schools for almost 15 years, and I do not recall anyone 'doing research' on my students. 15 years of data points is a large sample set, and Lemov clarifies basic classroom principles in ways that Education school classes rarely do. The simpler the teacher can keep their practices, the easier it becomes for students to have the opportunity and expectation to acquire 'deep content knowledge' even though they have 'little interest in it.'
As a math teacher content knowledge is 'sine qua non,' yet I've seen many Ivy-league/Univ of Chicago-style trained math majors who are overwhelmed because they cannot run a classroom. There are reasons why teachers frown at the 'ed theory' that's shoveled upon them regularly, mostly because so much alleged 'research' does not represent reliably what happens in a particular school district, or classroom. The 'K.I.S.S.' method employed by Lemov's writing works because it encourages teachers to embrace the approaches and implement them. I don't need to be 'intellectual' as long as the children become 'intellectual.'

Posted by: pdfordiii | April 27, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

"Is there anyone else out there who managed to become a happy, successful, highly skilled teacher without spending one penny on graduate school education courses? "

You do realize you became a teacher quite a while ago, right?

You also realize that, until you got a Master's, you got paid 6-8K less a year than those who got a Masters? (with all the additional credits and the Master's boost, it's about 6-8K.

Finally, you do realize that people who took out loans to get a graduate credential get most of it forgiven if they teach a critical subject (which English isn't) or a Title I school? Whereas your expenses for grad school, not so much?


Thought not.

In any case, I'm a second career teacher who has three credentials in English, math, and history. What I did was the fastest way through. Trust me. I checked.

Finally, as much of a waste of time as many ed school classes were, they at least pretended to have something to do with teaching. Graduate level study in English, math, or science has zip to to with teaching at the high school level.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 27, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

"Are all of you getting free/reduced-rate tuition for a Master's degree in Education, and if not, why aren't you doing graduate study in your subject area or in a related field?"

I thought teachers in NY state were required to have Masters degrees in education - ?

A teacher in NY state can have a Master's degree in any subject?

Posted by: cijohn | April 28, 2010 6:30 AM | Report abuse

sidewiththekids has made a great observation. The best students did not like school and will not choose to work there themselves.

Too few science teachers have done sufficient science to develop enough understanding to teach science well.

Most ed schools spend too little time on learning to teach. Teachers, like many other professions, should have an apprenticeship period. One commenter mentions an ed school where students spent time in classrooms from the first year. That's the right idea.

Having had the classroom experiences, students can better comprehend the philosophy of teaching.

Due to cut-backs, mentors are not very available. Mentor programs tend to be spotty. I personally know on person whose mentor never talked to him during his first, critical year of teaching. He left teaching.

Ed schools shouldn't be allowed to grant degrees unless their students spend a specified and high fraction of the course credits in real classrooms assisting and teaching with master teachers.

Alternate paths to teaching certification should be available as well. Suppose someone has a PhD from an Ivy League school or MIT or Caltech in chemistry. Put that person in a classroom with a master teacher for a year, and the new teacher will be better than most chemistry teachers. Follow up with frequent oversight in the second year, and you'll have a great result.

Posted by: harry4 | April 28, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Trying to send you a private email about another matter; however, the address given here isn't going through:

mathewsj (at)

Is it to be That doesn't seem to be working either. Would appreciate hearing from you.


Posted by: dmbmeister | April 28, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

To Cal-Lanier. Perhaps you misunderstood me or perhaps I sounded too gruff or judgmental. I did become a teacher a long time ago (back in the 1970's)and at the time, I don't think that there were any programs offering a free Master's degree. I think there had been one previously, Teacher's Ed, which was half education courses and half courses in your own discipline, but by the time I started teaching, we all had to pay for our own grad school. Most of my friends who were teaching in secondary school chose to get Master's degrees in their subject area; it was much more stimulating and much more fun than ed courses would be. Yes, I am one of those who believe that school should be intellectually stimulating and fun--qualities that many colleagues have found lacking in most graduate education courses.Of course,if you are getting the degree for free or at a reduced rate, you should certainly take advantage of it. I just think that new, or future, teachers should be aware that there may be options other than 36 (or more) credits of graduate school education courses.I noticed, after my last post,that some people were surprised to learn that a Master's in Education was not required. If we keep our own passion for learning alive, it will surely find its way into our classrooms.

Posted by: ksherwood1 | April 28, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse


At the end of the year, my daughter who has taught seven years in two different counties will be non-renewed. Why? While she had tenure in the other county, when she moved this was her third year and she was denied tenure. Not only won't she have a job at the school, she cannot work in the district for a year. Why did she get non-renewed? It was due to the fact that I made the county office aware of state and federal violations at that school and the principal did reprisal against my daughter. If she had tenure, that wouldn't have happened for she is an excellent teacher who has gone in early, tutored after school without extra pay, works in the evenings and on weekends to be the best she can be. She has qualified in her county as a reading and standards coach; regardless, the principal didn't like what I'd done and started her reign of terror. Many days my daughter came home in tears. As you can imagine, it affected her health. It irritates me when I watch Morning Joe and they appear to bad-mouth teachers so much. I truly wish principals would be looked into much closer for they have the ability to make or break a school. I've known principals that drank on the job and it was covered up, those who went to a quiet area and let the assistant principal do all the work, and those that ruled by threats and demeaning their staff.

Posted by: dmbmeister | April 28, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I don't know about "more incompetent Principals than teachers," but there seem to be plenty of both who have a contempt for students. Years ago my mother began addressing her fifth-graders as "Mr." or "Miss." She was motivated by an overwehleming repetition of first names among the students--like a half-dozen "David"s among 24 students--but she soon found their behavior improved and they began to address her more politely. I mentioned this to a retired teacher recently, and she told me she had tried the same thing in her class, only to be told by the principal to stop it because the students would start forgetting they were the students and she was the teacher!

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 1, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company