Teaching how to teach?

January 14, 2010 at 2:04 am 3 comments

The Atlantic asks, “What makes a great teacher?

Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools—even supposedly good schools—than among schools.

But we have never identified excellent teachers in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere—but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.

At last, though, the research about teachers’ impact has become too overwhelming to ignore. Over the past year, President Barack Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have started talking quite a lot about great teaching. They have shifted the conversation from school accountability— the rather worn theme of No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s landmark educational reform—to teacher accountability. And they have done it using one very effective conversational gambit: billions of dollars. Continue reading here

The article by Amanda Ripley includes video clips of four different types of great teachers. Via the Teach for America video library at http://www.teachingasleadership.org (to be live beginning next month), the exemplars of effective teachers include The MotivatorThe Tour Guide, The Manager, and The Connector.

Ripley’s article is interesting to read alongside Jay Mathews’ reflection on a recent study of teaching practices:

The Study of Instructional Improvement document rips a big hole in the idea that changes in those schools’ reading programs will have much effect on what going on in their classrooms.

The study led by Brian Rowan of the University of Michigan found extraordinary differences in what teachers in adjoining classrooms were doing, even in schools supposedly ruled by comprehensive reform models that dictated how everyone used every hour of the day.

“For instance,” Robert Rothman reported, “the study showed that a fifth-grade teacher might teach reading comprehension anywhere from 52 days a year to as many as 140 days a year. Similarly, first-grade teachers spent as little as 15 percent to as much as 80 percent of their time on word analysis. Thus, the study found, students in some classrooms may spend the majority of their classroom time on relatively low-level content and skills, while their peers in the class next door are spending much more time on higher level content.”


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jleeger  |  January 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Interesting. It’s fascinating that we ignore what we know at base to be true.

    What’s the old saying – “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

    I never found that to be the case. For me, the article you cited was always true. The best teachers I had were those who appealed to me as human beings, and who taught me as a human being.

    They did not present themselves as a “teacher.” They did not treat me as a “student.”

    Even when research “proves” certain things, there’s still a very large gap between that proof and the implementation or use of that knowledge in day-to-day life.

  • […] If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school A nice companion to “Teaching how to teach.” […]

  • 3. Finding, making, and evaluating great teachers « playthink  |  February 26, 2010 at 9:25 am

    […] making, and evaluating great teachers I earlier referenced an article in The Atlantic that asked, “What makes a great teacher?” The entire article […]


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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