Star teachers believe kids can learn

The best teachers believe no student is unteachable, however dismal their family circumstances, writes Maureen Downey in the Atlanta Star-Constitution. She cites Martin Haberman, developer of the National Teacher Corps, who’s developed an interview process to identify which teacher candidates are likely to succeed. He doesn’t look for an elite diploma or graduate education work. Loving kids isn’t enough either.

As any veteran teacher will agree, students aren’t always lovable. That’s why it’s more important to hire teachers who believe that kids are still teachable even when they aren’t lovable, he said.

In Haberman’s research, the most effective teachers tend to be mature adults who come to the classroom later in life and who live or grew up in the local community. They are not shocked by the conditions of the school or the chaos of their students’ homes, so they carry neither pity nor fear with them into the classroom.

What they do bring is a steely determination to reach their students and a refusal to blame their own lack of success on the kids, the parents or the neighborhoods.

Star teachers take responsibility for doing whatever it takes to motivate students. “They believe that success is a result of persistence and effort and that students have great potential if given ample motivation and opportunity,” Haberman says.

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Comments

  1. I sure hope that this information on star teachers isn’t a surprise to anyone. The best teachers always seem to be the best regardless of what’s going on around them.

  2. Although this is true, and my friend the superintendent sincerely believes to be true, my take is that you eventually reach a point of effectiveness where it simply isn’t worth the money to try to reach the bottom 10%. We as a society, rightly or wrongly, seem to have pegged this at the age of 16 when kids can legally drop out of school. Individual districts have pegged this at various different levels, with large inner-city schools pegging this at a much lower level than suburban schools. Cost-effectiveness takes on many forms.

  3. The bottom 10% probably should not be in an academic setting at all; a special facility whose purpose is to help them be as independent as possible is a more rational choice. Having severely handicapped kids sit in classrooms where they have no hope of doing the academics serves neither their needs nor the needs of the other kids in the class. Yes, they can learn, but not the same things or at the same pace. Obviously, the specific percentage will vary across districts and schools, just as the gifted/highly gifted percentages will. The public schools’ one-size-fits-all approach really doesn’t fit many kids.

    Also, I’d like to see the educational community stop its focus on the “star teachers”; there will never be enough of them to have a wide impact. It’s time to get more teachers, especially in struggling districts/schools, up to satisfactory. If you look at the stats for the University of the District of Columbia’s ed programs and graduates, the magnitude of that task is more than obvious.

  4. “In Haberman’s research, the most effective teachers tend to be mature adults who come to the classroom later in life and who live or grew up in the local community.”

    This analysis suggests alternatives to the TFA model.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    Maybe the TFA model is to young to know how it truly falls in terms of star teachers. I propose a teacher at the top of their class and with high college entrance scores(i.e. a typical TFA teacher), (rather than in the lower 20% of college entrance tests scores as so many teachers are), with a strong academic degree make more of difference in a given classroom than a teacher with nothing more than an ed degree just out of school. I would love to see data on this.

    I would love for teachers to be required to work in a field other than education either before they enter the classroom or after they have been in the classroom for a few years. I believe those experiences will make the teachers much stronger in the classroom.

    Interesting conversation about the lower 10%. So…in my district with 12% or high or special ed kids…we throw a good percentage of them out, right? We then look at the kids in the lower 10% academically and throw them out? Just how does one determine which kids are truly in the lower 10%? Severally retarded, yes. But that is no where near 10% of a given population…

  6. And so, in classrooms where some of the kids don’t learn sufficiently, are the teachers going to be told, “You just didn’t LOVE them enough. You need to LOVE your students more.”

    Taking all the problems onto themselves – not accepting sometimes that students are just recalcitrant, and saying, “They’re not learning because of ME” is a royal road to burnout.

    Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it is NOT the teacher’s fault.

  7. It’s a fine line. You believe you can do something for every kid on the roster, but you don’t take it personally when it doesn’t happen — you recognize that children have free will, whether we like it or not.

    I reflect on and worry about the kids I didn’t reach — but also on the kids I did. All that informs the next year’s teaching. I think it is important students know you do care — even the ones who are driving you completely insane — and they know it — but “not loving them enough” seems to beg one to cross some boundaries.

    FWIW, I’m not sure what you mean about the bottom 10%. Is with or without the SPED pop? We have about 25% SPED in our building with quite a range of disabilities.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    Elimination of the bottom tenth is not a new idea. While many would associate this with Hitler, we have certainly based policy in this country at times on similar lines of thought. The institutionalization of “idiots,” cripples and other misfits was certainly informed and justified by this kind of thinking. Of course, a return to such policies only begs such questions as by what means the bottom 10% might be defined (is it different in the every kid is above average suburbs), how early in life, kindergarten, fifth grade, age sixteen, at birth? And what, then, to do with the bottom tenth? Extermination? Institutionalization? Enslavement? Charity care?

    It seems as though proponents of the bottom tenth thinking are always those who assume themselves to be solidly in the upper 90%, if not the top tenth.

  9. Well, they could be mainstreamed at great expense, to no good result, all the while interfering with the kids who aren’t part of the “bottom 10%” cohort.

    Oddly enough, the champions of that approach also seem to believe themselves, uniformly, in the upper 90%, etc.

  10. Margo/Mom says:

    “Well, they could be mainstreamed at great expense, to no good result, all the while interfering with the kids who aren’t part of the ‘bottom 10%’ cohort.”

    allen, it bears repeating that the research doesn’t bear this out.

  11. Wow, quite some assumptions here. I never thought that the bottom 10% would include special ed kids, but I guess that it would have to. But I was actually thinking of the bottom 10% of the non-special ed kids who lack the desire to be in school to learn.

    Obviously, this distinction can’t be made too early, but I see nothing wrong with weeding out a bottom 10% at two different places, roughly at entering 6th or 7th grade and entering 9th or 10th grade. And for those kids who want to learn but have a hard time learning an “academic” or college curriculum, teach them something else.

    I had two classes in high school that were the most useful to me in real life, defined as teaching skills that did more than just get me into college: wood shop and Earth Science. I learned English composition during my military career, and I learned history also from my military career. High school and college were woefully deficient in those areas. Economics I learned from applying common sense to reading the Wall Street Journal. Basic finance I learned from balancing my check book.

    What else is necessary? My math and science got me into college, and “qualified” me to take the patent bar exam, so they helped me out (eventually–in my mid-40’s), but I never needed them until then.

    So if so much of what I took wasn’t really useful (and I was graduated 2nd in my class in high school), think how much of what we try to teach the kids, especially those who don’t want to be there, is just so much wasted effort. As Isaid above, not cost-effective.

  12. Margo/Mom says:

    “But I was actually thinking of the bottom 10% of the non-special ed kids who lack the desire to be in school to learn.”

    Boy–I’d love to see someone wrestling with putting that into legislation. Step One: remove all “special ed” kids from consideration (do you think that this might have an impact on the number of kids identified as “special ed?”). Step two: develop criteria by which the bottom 10% are to be identified (across the board? reading? math? criterion referenced state testing or norm referenced standardized testing). Step three: determine if there will be an appeals process, and what it will consist of (seems like some due process would be required before implementing a decision with such far-reaching consequences). Step four: measure the “desire to learn” of those identified who make it through the appeal process.

    Seems like in the end, it might be more efficient (particularly since no one has volunteered what should happen to the new illiterate class being developed) to just figure out how to better educate all of the kids.

  13. Margo/Mom,

    It’s simple, really. Just ask the teachers to nominate 10% of their class. I think that by the time kids reach 9th grade that their teachers could do this, with very few errors.

    But notice that I did call for alternatives, such as vocational training (horrors) instead of irrelevant academic courses.

  14. Ragnarok says:

    “…no one has volunteered what should happen to the new illiterate class being developed…”

    See Huxley, Brave New World.

    “…just figure out how to better educate all of the kids.”

    Fuzzy reasoning; the weakest (insert suitable caveats here) will still be way below the strongest.

  15. GoogleMaster says:

    What about the kids who come to class drunk, stoned, or chemically altered in some other way? How do we get them to learn, when, depending on their drugs of choice, they’re either sleeping at their desks or bouncing off the walls?

    What about the ones who don’t show up for class at all, whose parents — or whatever adults share their households — don’t make the kids go to school and/or have no control?

    What about the ones with extremely abusive home lives, where they don’t get any sleep because they’re hiding from mom’s drunk boyfriend du jour?

  16. Margo/Mom says:

    “It’s simple, really. Just ask the teachers to nominate 10% of their class. I think that by the time kids reach 9th grade that their teachers could do this, with very few errors.”

    I think someone suggested something similar to improve instruction–get rid of the bottom 10% of teachers every year until things get better. So far I haven’t heard of any educators endorsing the idea.

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