Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Teaching teachers

Elizabeth Green's excellent article on the effort to identify what makes a good teacher "good" is the sort of thing you should print out and read over lunch. There are a lot of important points in the piece, but the underlying premise that I'd draw your attention to is that the basket of attributes that seem to result in effective teaching are not the basket of attributes that result in "getting accepted to an Ivy League university."

There's a tendency to let the conversation over teachers become a conversation over replacing the current crop of assumed mediocrities with highly-educated professionals. This is particularly prevalent when the conversation is being had by highly-educated, high-achieving media and political professionals who are not actually teachers, but quietly think that if they were teachers, they'd be doing a bang-up job. But that doesn't seem to be the magic bullet, and as Green notes, the number of jobs you need to fill -- the United States has 3.7 million teachers, and Harvard University graduates fewer than 2,000 students each year -- makes a strategy based on individual talent very difficult. Figuring out what makes a teacher effective and then learning how those skills can be, well, taught, is a much more promising approach.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 8, 2010; 8:08 AM ET
Categories:  Education  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Your procedural workarounds in charts
Next: Someone should tell House liberals that President Obama doesn't actually support the excise tax

Comments

The key here is much more the second point than the first - teacher quality is still highly correlated with the quality of the teacher's education (even if the two aren't a perfect match, as you suggest).

However, this is clearly not a scalable solution for the millions of teachers in the US. While improving the selectivity of our teachers is part of the solution, we need significantly better training for the other 90%.

Posted by: phantasypunk | March 8, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

do we need studies to tell us what the attributes are for a good teacher for young children?
cant you just ask kids???????


if you are a good teacher, for children, it means that being around kids makes you happy... you have to love what you do, with all of your heart, and not just hang in there and drag yourself into the classroom for your pension.

teaching is about more than a subject.
you have to see the best in each child, and help them to see that,and you cant fake it.
if you dont make a child feel good about themselves and you stop believing in them, they stop learning. they stop liking you right away, and then they dont want to learn from you.
if you teach children, then you really need to love children. you have to delight in them.
being around them may be work, but not effort.
patience is more than essential.
if you dont have a good heart, children will not like you....perhaps there is no "multiple intelligence" test for a good heart, but children can tell right away.

you have to have empathy that flows for every one of them.
you have to appreciate their humanness and touch a child's imagination.

you have to be kind unconditionally to them.
you have to be able to apologize when you hurt their feelings or embarrass them, because teaching is always more than just teaching a subject.
you have to want them to succeed for themselves, and on their own terms, and recognize that this success is not about you.
and you have to always remember that every child is different and learns things in a different way, and sees the world in a different way.....and appreciate each one of them for who they are.
that is a good teacher.

Posted by: jkaren | March 8, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it's still true that teacher quality is associated with the quality of the teacher's education but beyond that, of the teacher's overall intellectual and personal strength. How about raising teacher salaries to attract more ambitious people? Better training will probably do very little. The teachers' unions and the public school bureaucracy, society's low esteem for teachers, and the dead hand of political correctness all do their share to prevent enterprising, brilliant individuals from choosing teaching (in the grade school and highschool levels) as a career. When teaching is a more lucrative career, there will be more respect for it.

Posted by: truck1 | March 8, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

My take on the article is that a ton of teachers *do* need to be replaced by highly-educated professionals...but that "education" in this context simply means "training" and that this training is something they could do while still on the job. Which I thought was pretty encouraging.

Posted by: CatfishHunter | March 8, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

One of the things that often seem interesting is how those people who oppose term limit for politicians because, well, it takes political skill to run congress, are often for the TFA group, that believe we need to replace burnt out teachers with new teachers all the time.

Posted by: thescuspeaks | March 8, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

If you want better teachers, get better students. As a teacher what the biggest problem in their school is, in the answer is and will pay or bad hours or administrators, it is invariably the problem of student discipline. Teachers often spend most of their time especially in the non-advanced classes just fighting to maintain order. Fix discipline and you will fix a lot of the problems.

How do you do that? If I knew that, I would be rich. However, parachuting in a bunch of Ivy Leaguers was probably not the best way to go. I would probably recommend more male teachers, more teachers from the student's own communities and real live discipline that isn't bogged down by never-ending racial consciousness. Shoot, transfer all the money spent on the "teaching teachers and studying them" to actual teachers might be the way to go. Fewer "professors of education" and "schools of education" and more teachers would do wonders.

Posted by: sgaliger | March 8, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

It makes it clear that teachers are missing real feedback on how well they are doing and the key importance of classroom management, particularly in schools where a large percentage of the children have serious behavior problems. The insight about how something as simple as making a request to have people get their work out can be broken in down into pieces was amazing.

It's not about attributes at all, it's about really working on the little details that allow a teacher to get the students in a state where learning is possible. It reminded me of how Japanese teachers review tiny details about the sequencing of lessons to ensure comprehension and engagement. This is very hard work, and it is unlikely that our unions would allow it.

http://books.google.com/books?id=7ncMKDdCd84C

Posted by: staticvars | March 8, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

To have better students you need better parents. They have to be willing to acknowledge and try to fix student misbehavior. Most of them are not, and try to blame the school or teachers instead.

Posted by: truck1 | March 8, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I read and really enjoyed the piece. I teach a few ACT prep course and use strategies similar to those reported on by the article's author. They work. I didn't come across the rules her main source has spent years defining, though. I just follow the rules Cesear Milan describes on his TV show. I'm not joking. Direct instructions, given firmly and always followed through on. That's Cesear's advice in a nutshell. And always follow through on the instructions with a smile.

Posted by: markhengel | March 8, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Teaching is extremely difficult, much more so than people who have never tried it realize. Learning can be extremely difficult for many people as well. People who were successful as students have no idea how hard teaching and learning can be, and their advice is almost always misguided.

Having taught, I found the article very informative. It shows that most of what is taught in ed schools is useless. Teachers need a combination of good and teachable techniques and subject matter knowledge for teaching. Teaching math, for example, is much more than understanding how to do the problems. It involves seeing why someone would get a problem wrong and how to correct their mistakes in a way that will helo them learn.

Posted by: Mimikatz | March 8, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I once made the point to Kevin Drum that inadequate content knowledge was by far the biggest limiting factor I had observed in years of watching teachers teach. He replied that was an obvious problem and my rejoinder was if it is so obvious, why does it not factor in any reform efforts?

On one level, this article does state the obvious, as Drum noted. Learning will not occur if the environment is chaotic, the children are browbeaten, and the knowledge is not already in the room. On the other hand, I think I had a point -- if these things are so obvious, and so obviously in need of fixing, why are they not the focus of reform? Did we really need economists to tell us that (and what is the deal with economists being assumed to have some sort of universally applicable expertise)?

It didn't become knowledge just because a Harvard economist trained his gimlet eye on the problem. In point of fact, all of this has been well known in cognitive psychology for years. What this article calls "Math knowledge for teaching" is more generally known among cognitive psychologists as "pedagogical content knowledge" and it isn't a new thing. Research in the development of physics understanding (my discipline) has been going on for decades and we now understand pretty well what intermediate states of reasoning students will pass through and how to move them on to the next developmental stage. And the middle school project I once worked on (which led to years of in-class observations) spent the greatest amount of time orchestrating the classroom activities so that our students always knew where they were and what behaviors were expected at that point.

It seems that both economists quoted in the piece are blissfully ignorant of all of this work. It isn't clear whether the Michigan State people know about it or not, but the fact that they seem to have reinvented the pedagogical content knowledge wheel is not a positive indicator. And it seems to me that an expert without relevant background knowledge is no kind of expert.

Posted by: pj_camp | March 8, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

there is always a crowd arguing that allo of our educational concerns would be solved by better teachers

it is a popular view

it is a money saving view

who would want to increase funding to education the young if we can solve the problem by providing "improved teachers"

Posted by: jamesoneill | March 8, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

there is always a crowd arguing that all of our educational concerns would be solved by better teachers

it is a popular view

it is a money saving view

who would want to increase funding for educating the young if we can solve the education problem by providing "improved teachers"

Posted by: jamesoneill | March 8, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, the problem isn't the teachers in many cases -- the problem is the students.

I was such a student myself. In high school I came to realize that I could get away with doing the bare minimum in assignments and needn't have worried about anything. There were classes that I just sat in without ever doing anything. I failed them, but nothing else happened. I wasn't made to feel ashamed about failing them. I just stared out of the window the whole year, but while the guidance counselor showed some concern there was never any other sort of punishment.

I still managed to get a decent education in my school, but what if I wasn't just not doing my work but I was also disruptive? And what if there are 10 such students in the same class...students who know that their teachers are good-doers with their hands tied behind their back when dealing with bad students?

Here's a solution: bring back physical discipline. In all the schools located in low income communities, from grades 3 to 8 there should be an official physical disciplinarian assigned to the schools. A teacher will then have something serious to lord over the students -- "if you misbehave, I will send you to the discipline office." And the disciplinarian should be big and scary looking.

Keep all the teachers as they are but bring in Mr. Discipline. Things will change fast.

Posted by: Paul_Atredies | March 8, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

These two sentences capture about 90% of the debate on education quality!!

"There's a tendency to let the conversation over teachers become a conversation over replacing the current crop of assumed mediocrities with highly-educated professionals. This is particularly prevalent when the conversation is being had by highly-educated, high-achieving media and political professionals who are not actually teachers, but quietly think that if they were teachers, they'd be doing a bang-up job."

Posted by: df37 | March 8, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Charles Payne in his book "So Much Reform, So Little Change" does a great job of showing why just saying we are going to bring in teachers from elite schools doesn't solve the problem.

Another place to see this is Teach for America's own statistics. Fact is that while Teach for America teachers do make some difference in their students math scores in other areas studies done using standard statistical methods show no advantage in having a Teach for America teacher.

Posted by: lmnop2 | March 8, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

The level of banality at which the subject of education is being debated in this country is more discouraging than any test scores or international comparisons, as is aptly demonstrated by both Ezra's blog post and the Elizabeth Green article.

Posted by: carbonneutral | March 8, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

> This is particularly prevalent when the
> conversation is being had by highly-
> educated, high-achieving media and
> political professionals who are not
> actually teachers, but quietly think that
> if they were teachers, they'd be doing a
> bang-up job.

For some reason Matthew Yglesias' name springs to mind at this point...

sPh

Posted by: sphealey | March 8, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company