The 'highly effective' trap

Don’t tell new teachers to emulate the “highly effective,” advises Teach for America veteran Gary Rubenstein, reviewing Steven Farr’s new TFA book, Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap. It’s too much for a first-year teacher.

Chapters one and two seem to say, “Here are some practices we’ve found in highly effective teachers. You should try them too.” Though some of the practices are pretty risky (like telling your class that they’re going to have two years of gains or having your students call you every night to talk about homework and share stories about your lives), the potential problems with some of these practices is ignored.

There is a middle ground between ineffective and “highly effective” superhero, Rubenstein writes. Tell beginners to aim for “moderately effective” in their first years of teaching.

My concern is that the beginning teacher, by trying to emulate the ‘highly effective’ teachers will spread themselves too thin and become ineffective by trying to do too much.

The book gets a lot better after the first two chapters, Rubenstein writes. One of its central themes is that effective teachers know how to use time wisely. But TFA doesn’t tell its new corps members how to prioritize. While the book stresses investing students and their families and setting “big goals,” Rubenstein offers his priorities for teachers’ limited time and energy:

Plan Purposefully 35%
Execute Effectively 35%
Continuously Increase Effectiveness 15%
Work Relentlessly 5%
Invest Students and Their Families 5%
Set Big Goals 5%

TFA’s summer training program gives novices about 19 hours of teaching time, which is not enough to learn how to “execute effectively,” Rubenstein writes. Corps members pull all-nighters preparing for a one-hour lesson. That’s not going to work when they’re teaching full-time.

Farr and his teacher preparation ideas get a huge plug in Amanda Ripley’s Atlantic artice, What Makes a Great Teacher?

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  1. Gary Rubinstein’s writing has a lot of wisdom. I love his book on classroom management and discipline, The Reluctant Disciplinarian–I’ve recommended it several times at NYC Eduator and at my own blog. So many elements of what is taught in teacher ed courses, particularly crash courses like those offered by TFA and NYCTF, are not exactly the basics of good practice. Rubinstein’s writing encourages teachers to develop those basics first, and offers good arguments for prioritization of the other elements.

  2. I agree with Miss Eyre. While it’s helpful to codify good teaching practices, it can be misleading as well. It certainly isn’t a replacement for actual clinical practice where new teachers can test and refine their practices.


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