March 04, 2010

Teaching is Hard

I coach a middle-school math team of 5th-8th graders, and I have learned that teaching is hard. My kids are all good kids, but after a long day at school, the girls want to chit chat and the boys want to wrestle. When it comes to learning hard math, the whizzes like to dominate the discussion, and the kids who are getting lost would prefer to literally hide under their desk.

Sometimes math team practices are disastrous, and I just want to let all my wild gazelles outside to play in the sun. And yet other times the classroom is exciting and magical and packed with learning, with the kids buzzing about primes or permutations by the end of the hour. It's not just the people in the room: we are the same every week.

But every week is different. What is happening?

Building a Better Teacher

In this coming Sunday's New York Times magazine is an inspiring article Building a Better Teacher that is centered around Doug Lemov's effort to discover the techniques of effective teaching. Lemov is a teacher's teacher who has been a teacher and principal, and he is now director of a charter school management nonprofit.

Lemov has come to believe that good teaching is not about "intrinsic teaching skill" and it's not just about economics or incentive pay. He believes that there are specific techniques used by effective teachers, and that they can be learned. From the New York Times:

When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?

Lemov is surely not the first person to try to distill lessons for effective teaching. What is the right way to be a good teacher? Lemov's book about his top 49 techniques is coming out next month. What are the best resources of people who want to teach well?

Posted by David at March 4, 2010 09:53 AM
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