Superwoman doesn’t teach here

In Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, Elizabeth Green argues that Japanese teachers are teaching math for understanding, while U.S. teachers haven’t been able to make reform math work.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

“This observation, that poor teacher preparation turns everything to garbage, strikes me as the skeleton key that unlocks so much of our failure to make and sustain gains in American education,” writes Robert Pondiscio.

Want to play a drinking game? Every time someone blames sloppy implementation for their pet reform’s poor results, take a drink. You may never be sober again. Drink every time someone says the answer is “more professional development,” and you might die of alcohol poisoning.

This needs to stop. Your preferred pedagogy, curriculum, approach, or technology has to be within the skills of ordinary teachers to implement well and effectively. If it takes a superstar teacher it’s a nonstarter.

Green’s upcoming book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that good teaching can be taught.

Pondiscio has high hopes for the book, because of Green’s “clear-eyed” New York Times Magazine profile of Uncommon Schools’ Doug Lemov. The story launched him as a teaching guru.

Lemov changed the conversation from “teacher quality” to “quality teaching,” Pondiscio wrote in a review of his book, Teach Like a Champion.

“The difference is not who the teacher is, but what the teacher does,” he writes. “And what the teacher does has to be learned, practiced, and mastered by the teachers we have, not the teachers we wished we had.”

We “lionize” teaching super stars, who never will exist in sufficient numbers, Pondiscio concludes. “Teaching has to be a job for millions of well-trained men and women of good will and general sentience.”

“You don’t need to be a genius,” Green told New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. “You have to know how to manage a discussion. You have to know which problems are the ones most likely to get the lessons across. You have to understand how students make mistakes — how they think — so you can respond to that.”

Lemov: Train teachers to perform, not just reflect

“Teaching is a lot like acting, but teachers aren’t trained to be performers, writes Katrina Schwartz on KQED’s Mind/Shift.

Actors, musicians or acrobats spend hours perfecting their craft because that’s how they improve. Teachers on the other hand, are often asked to identify teaching tools and tactics they’d like to try and to reflect on how those new elements could be integrated into the classroom.

“Knowing what you want to do is a long way from being able to do it,” says Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools and author of Teach Like a Champion. New teachers need more than lessons on “best practices,” Lemov believes. They need a chance to practice the practices.

. . .  in one of his first groups, teachers pretended to be unruly students in a class taught by another teacher present. The teacher tried to give her lesson as her “students” misbehaved. She was unable to do so; they were throwing too many challenges at her at once. “What just happened there is she practiced failure,” Lemov said. “She just got better at losing control of the classroom.”

. . .  he realized that, like learning a new piece of music or the lines to a play, the challenges of the classroom had to be broken down into component parts. In order for the teacher to practice succeeding, to feel the satisfaction of a well-given lesson to a controlled classroom, she needed to first practice controlling simple behaviors. Then gradually, the pretend students added in new types of challenging behaviors, adding layers of complexity so she could improve at a manageable pace.

Teachers and students need to “embrace the normalcy of falling down and picking yourself back up,” says Lemov. “But it needs to happen in a manageable way.”

Lemov’s latest book is Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.

To create champion teachers, blend

Blended learning can create more champion teachers, writes Allison Akhnoukh in Education Next.

Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion shows what the teaching craft looks like when effectively mastered, she writes. But we don’t have “remotely close to enough” champion teachers “because the job we’re expecting our teachers to accomplish is superhuman.”

When a teacher can effectively utilize all 49 of Lemov’s techniques in perfect harmony, it is feat at which to marvel. Much more commonly observed, however, is the teacher trying heroically – yet unsuccessfully – to fully engage each of his 30 students in the lesson he stayed up half the night planning.

Blended learning lets teachers focus their energies on the most critical teaching tasks, Akhnoukh argues.