Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green, 2014

building a better teacher.pngAmerican educators ought to build a coherent infrastructure—clear goals, accurate test, trained instructors—to teach teaching.

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Green argues that to truly improve, the education system must have: 1) clear curricular goals, 2) a way to evaluate progress toward those goals, and 3) quality training which actually prepares teachers to succeed in particular classrooms instructing particular subjects.  National curricular standards—though imperfect—are in place; high-stakes testing is in place; but programs to properly train teachers and opportunities for meaningful professional development are still sparse.

Green describes a growing educational movement to address teacher preparation.  Good teaching is not an innate ability; it consists of particular skills that can be described, taught, and learned.  In the past, there has been limited effort to foster such skills in teacher prep programs.  There has been no common language developed and diffused—as in other professions—to define and standardize what best practices are in actual classroom instruction, and no structured training in these techniques.  This third element of the national education puzzle is finally getting some attention.

Having graduated from a teacher-education program, I find Green’s remarks on teacher education to be quite accurate.  I did not feel that my education prepared me for the work I’d chosen.  Perhaps most people find this to be true, but it was glaring in my case, and there is little evidence that teacher-preparation programs, advanced degrees, or certification criteria even correlate with—let alone cause—improved teacher performance.  There were many disjointed and disparate elements of my teacher training, and I didn’t feel ready to enter and lead a classroom, even after a full academic year of student teaching.

The book doesn’t delve deeply into the particular skills that teachers can learn and employ; it’s an overview of the movement toward that level of teacher training, and the problems that the lack of such training caused.

Ideas per Page:1 4/10 (lower)

Related Books: The Prize by Dale Russakoff

Recommend to Others: Only people interested in education policy

Reread Personally:  No, read the books by Doug Lemov

Quotes:

63 “…but the Michigan State students didn’t have another kind of knowledge required for teaching—“pedagogical content knowledge,” Lee Shulman called it.  Not just teaching methods or the intricacies of the subject, but the perfect mix of the two.

97 “Discussions wouldn’t work if she simply let students talk on their own.  The best exchanges actually happened when she figured out what the students needed to understand and guided their conversation to a place where she could teach it to them.”

117 – 118 “The Americans had barely noticed the public address interruption.  “Oh, nothing,” they told the Japanese researcher, pressing the button to start the video again.  But the Japanese researcher persisted.  “What do you mean, nothing?” he said.  …  Thirty-one percent of the American lessons contained some kind of an interruption, either a PA announcement or a visitor walking in to deal with administrative business (like collecting the lunch count).

119 The Japanese teachers, meanwhile, turned “I, We, You” inside out.  You might call their version “You, Y’all, We.”  They began not with an introduction, but a single problem that students spent ten or twenty minutes working through alone…  [students] present their different ideas for how to solve the problem on the chalkboard.  …Finally, the teacher led a discussion, guiding students to a shared conclusion.

140 Just as the second-graders learned more by sharing their thoughts with each other, the fluid exchange of ideas accelerated among teachers too. The beauty of watching multiple teachers at work was that you could see the many different facets of a single practice.

163 Despite growing faculties with greater numbers of specialists, individual teachers rarely interacted.  Some education professors used the metaphor of the “egg-crate school,” which carefully separated teachers, as if to keep them from touching.

181 …the Doug Lemov taxonomy, an organized breakdown of all the little details that helped great teachers excel.  Soon, the taxonomy had become part of Doug’s official job. Instead of expanding his upstate New York branch of Uncommon at the same pace as the others, he would focus half of his time on building his taxonomy and recruiting a small team of video “analysts” to help him do it.

184 Instead, he’d just said, “We need one more set of eyes.”  The move echoed Colleen Drigg’s technique.  Presented with a child refusing to follow directions, Patrick corrected him—but in a way that was almost invisible.  … Using the least invasive form of intervention lightened a teacher’s job, but it also lightened the student’s.  Compliance came at a much lower cost.

236 …schools also failed to develop other crucial resources.  “Chief among these,” David explained, in a book he cowrote with the political scientist Susan Moffitt, “is a common language concerning teaching, learning, and academic content.”  Doctors had their Physicians’ Desk Reference, with its technical terminology and its evolving descriptions of common problems and treatments.

264 [defining academic discourse]: First, adults couldn’t do all the talking (and therefore all the thinking).  Second, the students had to talk about the academic idea at hand and, third, they had to talk using academic vocabulary.  Finally, they had to do what Aspire called “bringing evidence to bear”—quoting the text in English class, citing a primary source in history, reasoning through a proof in math, pointing to experimental evidence in science.

291 …American educators ought to build a coherent infrastructure—clear goals, accurate test, trained instructors—to teach teaching.

291 Looking at value-added scores, Kane and his colleagues had been surprised to find that the identity of a student’s teacher not only dwarfed the power of key “school-level variables,” predicting success more reliably than the size of their classes or the funding allotted to each student.  They also outpaced every factor currently used to hire, fire, and reward teachers.

Whether a teacher was certified, for instance, bore almost no relationship at all to whether the teacher’s students performed well on achievement tests.

Nor did the scores correlate with a teacher’s level of graduate education, even though most school districts rewarded advanced degrees with salary increases.

309 …improving teaching simply by sorting the better and worse among the untrained would not only be ineffective, but irresponsible.  “We would to that in no other sector,” Deborah said in a speech in 2012.  “In no other sector in this society would we think the way to supply … skillful work, would be to go find people, hope they do it well, leave them on their own to figure it out.  …. But that’s what we do in this country.  We take people who are committed to children, and we say here.  You know, it’s individual, work on it, figure it out.”

315  Did I really want to join the ranks of those who pontificate about teaching but have never attempted it themselves?  I responded that if the only warrant for writing about something was doing it, then why not also suggest that political journalists stop covering the government until they themselves hold office?  Teaching shouldn’t be exempted from outsider inquiry just because so many people underestimate it as personal, natural work.


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

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