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Can good teaching be taught? (nytimes.com)
196 points by MarkMc on Sept 8, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments



I've been teaching for over 20 years, and I've loved it. One of my biggest frustrations over the years, though, has been this notion that good teaching can't be taught. There's this notion that you have to be born a teacher, which is ridiculous. Certainly talent has a role in the profession, as it does in any profession, but there's a whole lot that can be taught.

Here's a few ideas that can be taught:

- Relationships are important. Students learn best from people they trust, and you can do things in a school and in a classroom that develop trust between students and their peers, and staff.

- Formative assessment is critical to growth. Formative assessment is assessment for the purpose of growth and learning, not for the purpose of grading. It's written and verbal feedback.

- When conflict arises, restorative approaches are more effective than punitive approaches. Restorative approaches look at what happened, why it happened, what harm was caused, and what can be done to address the actual harm that was caused. Restorative approaches are not weak if they are done well.

- Classroom management is important, but if you go at it by being too controlling you won't be a good teacher. A healthy amount of interaction is more effective than a silent classroom where everyone is afraid to talk.

- There's no place for zeroes in a grade book. A zero doesn't represent a student's learning, and it throws off all other measures of learning.

I could go on, but the bigger point is that there are many techniques and ideas that can be taught and modeled in the school and in the classroom. I think many student teachers get pulled into old, ineffective ways of teaching because of how it's modeled to them. They're taught many good approaches to teaching, but their ed school teachers just lecture at them. They're told to use well-researched, effective techniques, but then they're paired up with a mentor teacher who only uses an old-school lecture style, an overly strict approach to grading and assessment, and a punitive approach to discipline.


Another item that I think it vitally important but often overlooked: put yourself in the mindset of your audience, particularly with respect to vocabulary. For every word you choose, ask yourself: does the person I'm speaking to know what this word means? It's really easy to lose sight of this because you (obviously) know what the word means, and so it's easy to assume that your audience does too. But they may not, and if they don't, then as soon as you say the word, you will lose them because you'll be going on but they'll be back on that word thinking, "What the heck does that mean?" This is particularly important in STEM education.

Grant Sanderson (3blue1brown) is a master at this. He will go out of his way to coin and define new vocabulary in order to sound less intimidating. My favorite example is his invention of "squishification" as a synonym for eccentricity when talking about ellipses. It's a much better word because it's friendlier, it doesn't have semantic baggage related to weird mental states associated with it, and no one can ever forget what it means.


That reminds me of a great technique for introducing diagrams. Say you're giving everyone a diagram of mitosis. Instead of giving everyone a labeled diagram, you give out a diagram with the labels removed. You ask everyone to make up a name for every thing they can see on the diagram that seems to be important. Then you ask them to use these names to write a caption for the diagram, or a caption for each step in the diagram.

You get some really funny sounding names and captions, but the point is people are processing the parts of the diagram and looking for what's happening in the diagram. They're engaging fully with the process that's being represented, rather than just accepting terms and descriptions that are being given to them. You don't need to go through this lengthy process for every diagram you share, but it's a great way to introduce diagrams about key processes.

To bring it back to the article, many talented teachers discover techniques like this, as I imagine Grant Sanderson did. But every teacher can be taught this technique.


Ya, please just use the real words.

I recall one "creative" biochemistry professor that was always using clever invented words and analogies. So I had to learn his bullshit and then the real word as well which made it twice as hard.


> invention of "squishification" as a synonym for eccentricity

I wish I could find a community with which to work on innovation like this. Instead, people largely work in isolation, without the benefits of collaboration. So for instance, I thought "squishification" didn't have quite the right emphasis - process rather than property - and wondered if something like "squishedness" might have been better. Perhaps a new ImproveThisExplanation subreddit, sort of a cross between ELI5, "What If?", and AskAScientist...???


I'd be very interested in such a community if it existed. I'd go as far as creating/hosting/maintaining such a place if needed.


I suggest starting with a Google Group. That's trivial to set up. I'd be interested in participating too.


I wonder what success looks like?

Here's another use case to add to "squishification". Some weeks back, I was exploring how temperature is taught, preK-12. I noticed that mention of 'Sun heats Earth' was wide-spread, but that 'Earth is cooled by the deep-space sky' was almost never mentioned. Half of the energy balance was ignored. So explanatory leverage is left on the table - "Why are nights cold? Especially with clear sky? Especially in the desert? Why are mountains snow-capped? Why is winter colder?" etc. It doesn't seem inaccessible - "Between bright hot Sun, too hot, and dark cold deep-space sky, too cold, Earth spins, mixing too hot, and too cold, into not too bad." Like a person huddled next to a campfire or heater, turning around to warm their back. Spacecraft "barbeque roll" thermal management. Earth's surface as thermal mass for peak smoothing.

Maturing the idea to that point, and then finding and fleshing out opportunities for leverage, benefits from a diversity of expertise. Physics, teaching (various ages), engineering, planetary geology, etc.

So I wonder if it would be useful to think in terms of not just discussion, but also of leveraging existing communities? Orchestration, federation, cross pollination. So bits about radiative cooling rates could go to PhysicsForums.com; about 'why the sky is cold' to /r/AskScienceDiscussion; about 'nice videos of spacecraft doing bbq rolls' to /r/spacex; about teaching aspects to... sigh, it's a mess of mailing lists and blogs and... well, maybe prototypes to teacherspayteachers?; and so on. All pointing back to someplace able to coordinate the input.

Thoughts?


I'd be interested. It'd be good to have a focussing project.


I added some meta discussion down the other subthread "below"...


Your first point was something I had never thought of until I started teaching Hispanic students last year. Most of them come from Guatemala, though we've gotten a few more from Mexico and Puerto Rico recently, and I never thought of how how difficult math must be until I tried to imagine myself in their shoes, trying to learn math through a second (for some, third) language that they often didn't even know well. Especially daunting when you're even discussing basic vocabulary that English-speaking students have heard forever that they might not know, which is something often taken for granted.

It's much easier this year, in my opinion, as my class consists solely of the Hispanic students, and is co-taught with the ELL teacher. This makes it much easier to go through things slower, and make sure they understand the vocabulary that I'm using, which has facilitated their learning.


Is it similar to parenting?


yes, the basic model for good education is cooperation, with grades and evaluation just used for feedback to allow someone to improve rather than as a tool for punishment.

However, the competitive paradigm can easily be defended if one regards the education process as simply a sorting process. Suppose different people have different intelligence levels and the purpose of education is to find those with the highest intelligence. Then you don't need to have the education system teach students more than average. Students will learn or not and it is on them. And here, if the "real world" works this way, hey, you giving students a taste of this and in a limited sense that's "education".

So overall, this good, cooperative approach to teaching certainly exists and if you're a student you should seek it out. But there are reasons punitive education remains and those reasons have to do with the structure of this society and society would have to change for this go away significantly.


Current education process does not seem to be successful at sorting by "intelligence", "success in life" or any other metric I can think of. So this seems actually like a good argument to change it (maybe towards cooperation), because it fails even at one thing it is supposed to be good at.


I taught as an "assistant language teacher" in a Japanese high school for 5 years. "Assistant language teacher" means you generally have no qualifications or experience, but you are a native speaker of the language :-) Your role can be anything from sitting around doing nothing all the way to taking on a full set of teaching responsibilities. My job luckily tended to the latter.

In my first year of teaching, my colleagues had a meeting that I wasn't invited to. After that meeting, every time I bumped into one of them, they "casually" gave me a tip on how to improve my teaching. Literally, "Hello X-Sensei. How are you today?", "Hello Mike-San. I'm fine. If you do Y in your class, I think it would be good. What do you think?".

Obviously they had brainstormed ways for me to improve and then dished them out to each person. Amazing team. I was so grateful to them because it was the beginning of how I could start to improve as a teacher.

As you say, there are so many things to learn as a teacher. Even in the 5 years I did it, I felt that I managed to get to a competent level, but I was nowhere close to the really great teachers in my school. It is a very deep subject and the idea that it can't be taught is ridiculous in my eyes.

One thing that Japan does with "assistant language teachers" is that usually they teach together with another teacher in the classroom. You are really supposed to be assisting (potentially just modelling language), but often they allow you to lead the class. And if they are happy with what you are doing, they may no longer show up any more and trust you to handle things. This was a such a ridiculously good way to learn how to teach, for me. I taught together with 10-15 different teachers in my 5 year term (teachers in Japan move to different schools at least every 5 years, so you cycle through colleagues rather quickly). Each teacher taught me something new (even the bad ones :-) ).

I'm a programmer by training, and I am back to programming again. I like teams that do pair programming frequently (although it is difficult since I work in a timezone 9 hours shifted from my colleagues). Both with teaching and with programming, I think the idea of spending your first few years doing a lot of pair programming or team teaching is really valuable. I wish schools had the budget to do it.


The blame doesn't just go to crusty old mentors. A lot of the traditional approaches are much better than the fads that education academics try to push. If you look at Hattie's work, I'd say most of the highly effective techniques are more likely to be used in a classroom than advocated for by education academics.


> When conflict arises, restorative approaches are more effective than punitive approaches. Restorative approaches look at what happened, why it happened, what harm was caused, and what can be done to address the actual harm that was caused. Restorative approaches are not weak if they are done well.

The best “restorative approaches” engage the students in solving the problem (often teachers don’t even need to make a decision, the students can work out something more effective and satisfactory for themselves), whereas “punitive approaches” just add conflict and amplify problems and students reject the imposition on their autonomy.


I am not (yet) a good teacher of others in a formal sense. I am good at teaching myself things I don't know, and that comes from curiosity, persistence, determination, and doing/repetition/practice. If I wanted to become a good teacher, I think that I could maybe I could learn from a good teacher. Thoughts?


I'm sure it can be taught. I'm not sure everyone can be taught it successfully, and that includes a few working teachers.


It is hard to see how many children could possibly succeed:

> Most of all, Gunner worried about her students, most of whom lived in four low-income apartment complexes, which saw a lot of transiency. Thirty-seven percent of the school’s students arrived or left midyear. The day before, a family showed up looking to enroll and was so poor that both the adults and children were barefoot and hoping for a free school lunch as much as classroom seats. When a school-board member asked Gunner at a district event early in the year what she needed as a new principal, Gunner immediately said a washer and dryer, so she could wash the clothes that many students wore day after day. Many students had experienced trauma — the violent death of a loved one or homelessness or physical, sexual or verbal abuse — and arrived in the mornings in emotional distress, easily dissolving into tears or erupting in fury. Over long weekends, students sometimes went untended or had little to eat, which made returning to school both welcome and difficult. Yet the school had only one full-time social worker and a counselor for more than 450 children.


Exactly. It's not about the teachers.

My sister was an award winning teacher when she was at a good school. Now that she teachers on the edge of a reserve she has suddenly become "low performing".

Take 50 ideal teachers who have all the best training and have learned all the best techniques, and put them in a low scoring school. The test scores of the school will not improve. Most of the teachers will be focused on surviving until they can transfer elsewhere.


Reading Evicted, I got the same picture. These kids are going to be constantly changing schools. They're not going to be able to learn reasonably.


This article seems more like a profile than actually addressing the question raised in the headline. It is an interesting profile and I would guess that it is enlightening for people that haven't taught high school.

To answer the headline's question, as a former high school teacher and current college professor, I know that while a lot of teaching is about learning how to teach, I did have a leg up on a lot of my grad school cohort because I had a BS in English Education and had taken a number of education courses. That gave me some (admittedly limited) background in educational psychology and pedagogy that my peers who had never taught did not have.

However, there is a big gap between theory and practice and I think I learned the most about teaching by trying things and seeing what worked and what didn't. The most important thing is to resist the temptation to get lazy and just keep teaching the same things and the same way semester after semester and year after year.


I'm both a CS professor and former ski instructor (in Europe). As I was reading this thread, I realized that I've never had a single lesson on how to teach CS, and besides my students, nobody has ever gave me any feedback on my teaching. On the other hand, to become a ski instructor, I went on a rather extensive training with a lot of emphasis on pedagogy.


Skiing is very dangerous in comparison to programming


Skiing is dangerous to oneself (and a few others) ... programming can be dangerous to the entire world.


> programming can be dangerous to the entire world.

Tell that to the google employees


No one has ever gave you feedback on your teaching because you've never surveyed your students.


Not the OP, but when I was teaching, surveying my students was a technique that a colleague introduced to me. It was probably the best thing I ever did. I handed out a small sheet of paper to all the students at the beginning of class with some multiple choice questions and a space for general comments and asked for it back at the end. They didn't have to fill it in. I just told them if they get bored in class, just jot down whatever. Usually I think about 20% of the forms were filled in any class, but the info on them was really amazing. Since I did it every class, the students soon got used to it. Kills a lot of trees, though :-)

In defence of the OP, though, students can seem some parts of the teaching process. They can't see all of it and they definitely do not have the experience to provide good advice. Looking at surveys, you've potentially got good data, but you need to translate that into good action. What a student imagines will work and what will actually work is often very, very different. This is why you need help from experienced teachers.

I was lucky to work in a situation where I did "team teaching" a lot -- two teachers in the same class room. It's incredible what you can learn in that situation -- either just watching the other teacher handle a situation, or getting feedback on what you are doing.


He said he got feedback from his students, but not from anyone else (e.g. more senior professors).


I've had a number of different people tell me I should become a teacher, that I'm really good at explaining things, and I'm still skeptical of the impact of teaching in general. I don't know how we're supposed to measure it. Controlling for the individual variation of the students themselves is a non-trivial problem. The best schools tend to be highly selective in their admissions and the worst students seem mostly unteachable.

I challenge anyone to take the best teacher they've ever met and put them in charge of a class full of students from the first percentile of test scores.


Not everything can be quantified, and I think it's a dangerous line of thinking to equate impact with measurability. Particularly in education, the focus on standardized testing has had real negative impact in the fuzzier areas like critical thinking and the joy of learning. Of course I can't quantify this, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

I get that standardized tests are necessary to some extent, but I would not equate the things that led me to do well on them as the most impactful events of my education. One-on-one human interaction and empathy has been what elevated me past the hoop-jumping to a higher level of agency and self-motivated productivity.


There are good teachers and bad teachers.

Government tries to make bad teachers good teachers by an ever increasing administrative burden. This does not make bad teachers good teachers but burns out good teachers.


Administrative burden has become a problem at my school. Teaching has become a small part of my actual job. Now I run an entire beaurocracy within one person.

For example, we have to submit attendance multiple times a class. Apparently our attendance system isn’ good enough and we also have to submit attendance through different google forms and on paper. We can’t do anything without documenting it. I spend more time documenting than doing the things I am documenting. We can’t meet with other teachers to lesson plan unless we draw up an agenda, a list of goals for the meeting, and take minutes of what we discussed and then submit it to admin.


"We can’t meet with other teachers to lesson plan unless"

When I worked as a teacher I had to create a curriculum, monthly plans, weekly plans and lesson plans. The "lesson plan" was a multiple page bullshit orgy. I worked for two years in one of the best schools in the US. They had no "lesson plans" (yet, the best teachers).

If you go to teach a lesson you should be prepared and have a plan. A good teacher is also able to immediately cancel the plan and just to a review. You may have planed to teach a new complex science topic but the kids walk in from a math test into your class room and are "dead". I have seen the worst teachers sticking to their "lesson plans".

I miss the kids. But the administrative bullshit will prevent that I ever teach again.


“I miss the kids. But the administrative bullshit will prevent that I ever teach again.”

Yeah it’s not the students that make my job difficult, it’s the administrators.


I concur. I'm currently teaching, and I'm so glad that I don't have to do lesson plans. My schools, a rural one in the South, is very much a "hands-off" type of place. The department has a set curriculum and, until this year, that was it. You could teach the topics in any order you wanted, though obviously there was an order that worked better, and you never had to turn in lesson plans. You could make your own tests and spend as much time on each topic as you felt was necessary, to a point.

This was really nice, as it allowed me to take a bit longer on quadratics than some of the other teachers, which I was then able to follow up with a 2 week long probability unit to end the year instead of trying to cram in a unit on inverse and composite functions in the middle of May. It also allowed me to make my own tests, meaning that I was able to cater them towards my students and what we had focused on; if I spent a lot of time working on one thing with them, that was more prevalent on the test that something they found very easy.

Unfortunately, that is fast changing with a new teacher our school brought in last year. She came from a school where everything was strictly regimented; all teachers teaching a class taught the same thing on the same day and spent their lunch period making sure it was all going well. They gave the same test at the same time as well. She's trying to push all of that on us, and they hired her basically to take over the department and the accelerated classes (which she mentions all the damn time) and tries to bully her way into getting it her way.

Unfortunately, it's likely she'll succeed once the current AP Calc teacher leaves, and doubly so if she becomes department head in a few years. Last year there was an issue with a student dropping her accelerated geometry and moving to a regular one and not covering trig all year. It turned out she was in the fault, as she was the one who didn't follow the curriculum map, but that didn't stop her from blaming the other teacher, and forcing her changes so the curriculum map is basically done her way. For instance, we used to cover trig in December, so students would often see it before the December ACT; this also allowed us to use it in various ways for 3 months before the state-mandated one in March. She nixed that idea because she wanted to talk about volume and surface area and build gingerbread houses. A neat activity, yes, except we won't have even talked about quadrilaterals or circles in two dimensions yet! And now they'll basically see trig once and have to take the ACT the next week, without anytime to reinforce it.

Though, to be fair to my school, the math department is kinda in a weird place. There's not much camaraderie among certain members, and there's definitely a lot of tension just waiting to boil over.

The other big issue I have is not so much with the head administration, but with our guidance councilors. They're the ones who do the schedules, and they consistently screw up, yet get to keep their jobs. They never check over the summer to make sure that students are registered for the right classes, for instance. Last year, and even this year, we had kids register for classes they shouldn't be in, yet they never caught it. And there's four of them who work on it. They also treat students differently based on if they like them or not; I had one student who I had last year that tried to switch into my class and they wouldn't let her. Yet they let another student switch for basically the exact same reason she wanted to ("I like Mr. dorchadas's teaching style better"/"I don't like my current teacher"). And they also have instituted practice during the school day for our basketball and football teams. And they change those students' schedules to make sure they're in the right class -- I know of at least two football players who will be transferred from the football PE class to the basketball one after Christmas so they're there with their extra in-school practice for the majority of the season. Oh, and the two people who used to fix all the guidance mistakes have been explicitly told to by our vice-superintendent to not do it anymore (coincidentally, his wife works in the guidance office). So they've basically had their jobs threatened if they fix guidance's mistakes or go over their heads because of how they treat students differently.

Really, it's all driven me to just not like teaching. I like the school I'm at because it was so loose about following/having strict lesson plans, and that's about to change and it just leaves me unmotivated to continue on with it. Couple that with just treating students differently that goes on among certain groups of the administration, and I'm just tired of it all. I don't see how anyone could ever live with the in-school politics while being forced to use and follow a strict lesson plan; it sounds like absolute Hell to me.

/rant


It depends on what you mean by "good".

In the US nuclear navy, instructors are taught many things that make them better instructors: peppering the crowd with questions, active listening, elimination of crutch words (um, uh, like, etc), changing volume levels when speaking, practicing in front of peers who's purpose is to immunize the speaker against bad crowds (pen clicking, sleeping, tapping, talking, etc).

They are better. Does this make them good?

Pull learning is better than push learning in basically every case. Most people recall teachers that _inspired_ them to learn, not the ones with good oration skills. Objectively, what results in "better" learning?


The teachers I remember the best are the ones who lectured well. I learned more from them.


Third were the teachers “who can but won’t,” in Gunner’s phrase; these teachers had the capacity to become more effective educators but appeared to have no interest in doing so. They were already set in their pedagogical ways or didn’t think change at the school was necessary or possible or didn’t want to put in more effort.

There is a fairly simple solution here. Rather than improving the skills of people who aren't interested in improving, just fire them.


This is addressed in the article; turn over in these schools is a huge problem, especially mid-year, where students dealing with lots of instability in their lives suddenly have another major change. There's no guarantee that the replacing teacher will be any better: indeed, given the stress and low pay, it seems a decent chance you'll end up in the same place you started.

Furthermore, firing a third-to-half of the teachers (even during the off season) will create a pretty trash work environment, where /everyone/ is fearing for their jobs.

I thought the principal in the article did a great job of managing the issue. She made it clear that she was building a new culture of higher expectations. When confronted with the higher expectations, low-performing teachers can try to get with it (which is a win), or quit, as many did.


> given the stress and low pay, it seems a decent chance you'll end up in the same place you started.

Perhaps a solution would be to increase class size and increase teacher pay. Singapore has one of the highest student achievement levels in the world with an average class size of 36 students [1]

[1] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/30/what-other-coun...


In Japanese publicly funded schools, teachers change schools every 3-5 years. You are supposed to change at least every 5 years, although some teachers are allowed to stay at the same school for a long time in special circumstances. I taught at the local high school 10 years ago and today, apart from 2 teachers who have been there for 30 years, I don't know any of the teachers. Even the principal, vice principal and even the office staff change schools.

As a student you normally you have a "home room teacher", who is responsible for you. As much as possible, that home room teacher does not change for the duration of your school time (at least in junior high school and high school. I'm not sure about elementary school). So you start in your home room in grade 10 and you have the same home room and home room teacher until grade 12. Occasionally they have to split up some classes if there are problems. Occasionally they have to replace a home room teacher (in case one gets pregnant, etc). But as much as possible they try to avoid it. This provides stability to the students.

If you are a new teacher to the school, you might take the first year not having a home room (or filling in for a departed home room teacher for a year). Then you go to the grade 10 group, you get a home room and you look after it until they graduate. You will either move to another school at that point, or you will spend one more year filling in, or taking a break from having a home room (it's a lot of extra work).

The schools in Japan are ranked. As a teacher, your performance is evaluated. As much as I don't like the criteria for evaluation (usually if your students do well scholastically, then your get a good evaluation), I think it's a good system. If you get a good evaluation, you move to a higher level school. If you get a bad evaluation, you move to a lower level school. Certain good teachers (and administrators) are selected to become the department heads in the low level schools. Their job is to improve the poor performance of the teachers. If a teacher falls off the end at a bad school, then they are usually fired. The school I worked at was one of those "last chance" schools and a few teachers I worked with ended up being fired at the end of the year. Unfortunately, due to a huge under supply of qualified teachers, those teachers (who are unbelievably bad -- trust me on that), can easily get work on a contract basis for a year at a time. But they lose at least 30% of their salary, a lot of benefits and job security.

I think it's a good system, though it's hard on the teachers because you are always commuting a lot. I live in a rural area, so some teachers have to drive a few hours a day to get to work. In the big city it's easier, because there are a lot more schools in a small area. Still, even if you have a big commute, it will only be for 5 years, and they offer subsidised housing if you need it.


> There is a fairly simple solution here. Rather than improving the skills of people who aren't interested in improving, just fire them.

Well, depends on the absolute quality level of these teachers: according to your statement, you would fire a good-but-not-great teacher who is not willing to improve and retain a mediocre teacher who is willing, but not capable, to improve.


Yeah good point. It's also discouraging how much the principal has to deal with staff turnover - it seems like there are constantly problems like "This teacher isn't very good, but it's so hard to hire good teachers, if they quit I'll probably get a worse one."


I know that one of my colleagues got tenure solely because they had an issue with teacher retention in the math department. They weren't recommended for rehire after their first year, even from the person who supervised them, who was a friend. But, the school was struggling to fill the math spot that it already had open, and so they, of course, didn't do anything to her. This was repeated several years. In fact, I think they've had to hire a math teacher each of the past 5/6 years due to various things.


This title brings to mind the Paradox of the Court. A famous rhetoritician/lawyer in Greece taught his craft to a student. The student never paid his bill, claiming the teacher sucked. The teacher sued the student for the fee. The student represented himself.

The teacher pointed out that if the student wins, he must pay up as it would be proof he had learned the craft of lawyering. And, if the student lost, then he should have to pay as well.

The student argued the opposite: regardless of the verdict, he shouldn't have to pay for similar (but opposite) reasons.

In short, if s teacher cannot teach one how to teach, then the teacher was by definition not a good teacher.


This is a ridiculous question. Of course teaching, like any other skill, can be taught. I'm sure there are differing aptitudes among people, but unless you think that "good" anything can't be taught, it's hard to see why teaching would be this snowflake skill that's unlike any other...


Another challenge in education is that every area has different problems, and needs different solutions. In Utah, for example, our problem is teachers sticking with the job. There is a trend of young women graduating school, teaching for a bit until they get married, having kids, and walking out of the classroom having taught sometimes as little as only one year. On an individual level, I respect the choice to leave a job that isn't right for you, but its does leave us with an abundance of young inexperienced educators.


If you want to be a good teacher, first, you have to manage the classroom. This is important if you are coming to teaching from a non-teaching background like software development.

Having had experiences dabbling in teaching in actual classrooms, the most difficult part for me was my weak classroom management skills. I am always in awe at my teacher friends who command the classroom, sometimes without saying a word or very little.


Have also tried it and failed miserably. A lot of it is situational awareness (what's the state of the "help-queue"? Which students are not doing what they should, etc.), knowing everyone (name, who they are, struggles) etc. All things I can't do. If everyone feels seen by the teacher, that helps a lot.


Can you give some examples?


Like tormeh said, it is really about situational awareness.

The best teachers I've seen have a constant vigilance and constant banter. Not complete military drill control like Mastery Charter Schools but not chaos. Somewhere in between. And, yes, they all called out the student by name. They, as tormeh said, knew each student's weaknesses and strengths intimately. Tough love.

One example: One great teacher I know would go up to the whiteboard/blackboard, turning his back to the class, and, if he sensed "mutiny" in the making, he would randomly call out one of his student's names and ask them a question. He also said he had eyes in the back of his head, and I think the students believed that in the sense that he knew when they were trying to mess around.

My own example:

Teaching 10-12 girls CS which required laptop usage. It was really hard to stop girls from messing around on Facebook when I was on the other side of the "U" table, working the rounds. A better teacher would have managed that situation.

As an aside, this is why programs like ScriptEd work so well. They give "training wheels" to people who would like to teach CS to kids. ScriptEd has a system where everyone gets a chance to teach in front of the classroom. When you are not teaching, you are learning from the side/back of the room.


My 2 cents - the classes that had the least (if any) mutiny were classes like woodworking, where everyone came in, and got to working on whatever their task was. I built a chair, made some shovel handles etc.

When people are actually doing something, these problems don't exist.

The skill of keeping people from going crazy through intimidation/fear tactics seems like a necessary skill, only because the school system is structured like a detention center, rather than a place to help people learn and discover themselves.


I'd say as much as having a nice/interesting personality can be taught.

Because most of what constitutes good teaching is in fact the teacher being passionate about the subject and having an approach that reflects it. I don't think it can be replaced by someone that just goes through the same motions.

That said, better teaching (that what teachers in average do) can surely be taught.


I'm sure it can, but it takes longer and works differently than we like to believe.

Empathy, sensitivity -- the ability to connect to other people on their level and feel what kind of nudges they need to evolve.

But of course you can't expect that to happen if you treat teachers like garbage and stuff them in sterile rooms with 30 over stimulated kids.


Hattie's effect size list is a good place to start if you're interested in what teaching practices leads to better learning results: https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effec...

I few others I'd recommend:

- How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles by Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman

- How People Learn by Bransford, Brown, Cocking, & Pellegrino

- Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley

- Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Ericsson and Pool

Discloser: I wrote https://sgef.cc/tldrideas and am building Sagefy, a learning platform


Thank you for the resource links/recommendations.


Teaching is also a talent. Much like in singing or dancing there are people who excel in teaching, because they not only use the correct methods, but also manage to improve them, or adapt to circumstances when necessary. Very few people are capable of that, and you cannot train that.

The problem is that there are teachers who do not want to teach at all. And those who want to teach are rare, and those excelling at teaching are as rare as people like Richard Feynman.


As a former middle school teacher who escaped into programming, I think the problems of teaching are systemic to the education system itself. Teaching to a test is short-sighted and a phenomenal waste of effort and money.

Some rare teachers can use a combination of persuasion, charisma, fear, and group dynamics to be very successful at teaching to a test. They can make students jump through the hoops, remembering just enough to get it all out before summer hits and they forget it all again.

The current model of education is a "push" model, where the skill of the teacher is the defining measure, and the goal is temporary memorization of facts.

Instead we need to move to a "pull" model, where students learn to love learning, and through this teach themselves fact checking, research, critical thinking, and civic responsibility. I believe this is the obvious next step for a world where any fact is freely available inside one's pocket or library. I do not believe this is possible with grouping by age or with lecture and test based classes.

The Sudbury school is one such attempt, and it apparently is quite effective. We need to start moving all our schools this way!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbury_school



Can anyone think of an article or book that explains how to be a good teacher (in the classroom, military, etc.)?


Doug Lemov's book "Teach Like a Champion" is great: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118901851/ref=dbs_a_def_r...

I'd also recommend "Teaching as Leadership": https://www.amazon.com/Teaching-As-Leadership-Effective-Achi...


Article, no. Graduate degree programs, yes.


I say the graduate degree programs are highly variable. I'm currently in one for a MAT, and it's really just mostly busywork that's useless. My classes are either all geared towards elementary/middle school or, the one that is on secondary schools, the teacher hasn't taught in a public school for about a decade, and has never taught in the state that most of us are based in, or in a rural area.

I'm sure there are some good ones, yes. I feel like the in-person one near me here would be better, since they can tailor to our needs, but it's also much more expensive. And still doesn't deal with the fact that a lot of the professors aren't in the classroom, or are in more privileged schools. It's the same issue I have with a lot of the professional development stuff you see, too.


The number-one-most-powerful tool that I can recommend in teacher development is getting mentored by a Master Teacher once you are in your own classroom (ie, not student teaching). The good news is that you will likely get exposure to many/most of the big ideas in any graduate program. However, it's very difficult to integrate those big ideas into your own classroom without a guide. Having somebody regularly observe your work and hold you accountable for your choices can make an enormous difference in outcomes (and often very rapidly). If a formal mentorship program is not available, then I would recommend seeking out an informal one.


yes but you have to have the personality for teaching


Personality can't be taught?


You can’t teach someone to care. Teachers that don’t care deeply can’t push through all the barriers to succeed.


Why can't you teach someone to care? Why can't you explain to someone why exactly you care and help them to understand and accept your reasoning?

As an example,there are lots of health care workers that get into it for the money and start caring about patients(and vice versa).

I for example care,I would love the process of teaching but I would be terrible at everything else.

To be a good teacher,the biggest requirement imo is to be a good student. Much like how you need to be a good worker before you become a manager and how you need to be a good soldier before you give orders to other soldiers.

I just think "can't" is too strong of a claim that demands a clear and logical rationale to back it up.


I concur that teachers should be good students, as well as your analogy that managers should be good workers. In both cases it’s necessary but not sufficient.


Not really. Unless you love teaching you will always be a mediocre teacher at best. E.g., most teachers who say "Just google it" or "It is what it is" or "Its beyond the scope of this lecture" are generally not very good teachers. A good teacher is always inquisitive in knowing his/her audience, and formulating strategies to bridge that gap. The best teachers know exactly what the students struggles are, generally because they were in that same position as well. Great teachers formulate 100's of ideas and processes to identify which knowledge is worth telling at that moment, and which should be deferred for later. These same people will plan out exactly what the whiteboard will look like, before even lifting their marker.

I personally am not a great teacher... it doesn't excite me really. Partially because I have had to teach too many people that are not very good at picking up things, despite how many different methods I try. Also, because I've had to do a lot of sales work in my life... teaching is not that far different, having to repeat myself all the time can get frustrating. Plus, you don't get a return on investment on every student some are beyond help... and it makes you less inclined to want to teach others that are more capable.

There was a phase where I really enjoyed teaching but I am past that point now. I used to teach Elementary School/2nd grade at University, and did alot of tutoring from highschool to college. The passion might come again in the future, but its not today.

You don't have to be extroverted to be a good teacher, but you have to really enjoy planting ideas/seeds in others. Great teachers are also great storytellers too.

I wouldn't enjoy teaching unless it was paving a means for me to practice on making youtube tutorials, etc - where that content lives forever, and you no longer have to repeat yourself.


You mentiones mostly methodologies,those can be taught. Enjoying the method or process is the personality aspect.

I am of the opinion that you can be taught to enjoy just about anything.


You can copy and learn methodologies, but great teachers are also great innovators in teaching methodologies.

A good teacher always seeks a simpler analogy to explain just about everything.

Someone who just copies things verbatim will have a harder time coming up with original ways of explaining difficult concepts.


Not without being fake. People can change over time, but the core "being" of a person – what they're really like – tends to stay static.

Here's a specific example. You can be taught to overcome a fear of getting up onstage. You can't be taught to love and relish when you find just the right metaphor to convey an idea to a class.

The latter gives you a dopamine hit, or it doesn't. And if it doesn't, then you have an uphill battle.

From Mathematical Writing, on Donald Knuth:

> Don’s secret delight, he confessed today, is to “play a library as if it were a musical instrument.” Using the resources of a great library to solve a specific problem—now that, to him, is real living. One of his favourite ways to spend an afternoon is amongst the labyrinthine archives, pursuing obscure cross-references, tracking down ancient and neglected volumes, all in the hope of finding the perfect quotation with which to open or conclude a chapter. Don takes great pleasure in finding a really good aphorism with which to preface a piece of writing. So many people have written so many neat things down the ages, he said, that it behooves us to take every opportunity to pass them on. Don has been known to take such a liking to a phrase that he has written an article to publish along with it.

> So how are we to find that wonderfully apposite quotation with which to preface our term paper? Serendipity, said Don. Live a full and varied life, read widely, keep your eyes and ears open, live long and prosper. You will stumble across great quotations. For example, Webster defines ‘bit’ as “a boring tool”—Don was able to use this when introducing a computer science talk.

Of course, this isn't necessarily applicable to high school teaching, which is more about legally-mandated babysitting than about teaching. But the core question is an intriguing one.


> Here's a specific example. You can be taught to overcome a fear of getting up onstage. You can't be taught to love and relish when you find just the right metaphor to convey an idea to a class.

"to love and relish" ,that's they key phrase here. Why can't I be taught to love and relish _____?

For example,you need a specific personality to be a truck driver. The lifestyle of a driver is extreme and demands that you enjoy some of those extremes. Why can't a person be taught to enjoy sitting in a truck for 8 hours and driving along a boring rural route all day long and waking up in a different state every morning? Why can't a person be taught to enjoy planting ideas in people's minds?

It may fall under "psychological education" as opposed to "academic education",but I don't understand why it can't be taught.


Not the way a physical technique, programming, cooking, etc., can.

There's an intangible aspect what cannot even define, much less teach. We can just mimic some external trappings.

That said, you can try and influence towards a certain personality/passion/etc. But it's not like "follow this X,Y and you'll get the Z result" guaranteed like teaching regular stuff. It requires innate drive.


I agree,the methodology might need to be tailored for the individual,much like a treatment by a psychotherapist.

But if it can be taught,it's worth teaching every teacher.


There are innate character traits in each of us. Of course education/training/practice can move the needle a little up or down, but you can't really turn a very introvert person into a very extrovert one, for example.


Why not? I am extremely introverted, I became that way as a result of adapting to and learning from my life experience. Why can't I be taught through experience and having to adopt to uncomfortable situations, to become extremely extroverted?

There is a reason the military has a bootcamp,it's to break your personality so they can form a new personality that can take orders and lives without hesitation.


Being able to obey and follow discipline does not mean it changes your personality. Proof is, once men return to the civil life, nobody in their family says that they are a different person or something. The core personality remains.

Unless they have developed PTSD or something but that's trauma, not training.


The military made an ondemand killer out of them,how would civilians measure that change. The military doesn't make you a different person,nicer or meaner,the change they instill is simple -- your personality will obey lawful orders and work in a team.


Pick up skills can be learned, leadership can be learned, why not personality?

"If you don't like yourself, invent another one."


Sure it can. Here's the formula:

Good teaching = subject mastery + good public speaking + good classroom management + lessons designed with a low floor and high ceiling (allowing for a wide range of zones of proximal development)


Your great teacher formula assumes one way communication where students are talked to but ignored. That is suspect.


That's actually completely the opposite. Low Floor High Ceiling lessons are the antithesis of monologues. Here's a primer:[0] [0]https://nrich.maths.org/7701


Still, there is nothing about ability to listen or interpret human children - no expectatin about understanding of brain development (that is not just difficulty, there is way more to it) nor how their emotions affect their behavior. Nor ability to figure out which particular thing it is they don't get and need to be told to move on.

I can't recall good teacher thet would not had that.


What you describe falls under the good classroom management skill set. Maximizing student engagement and time on task requires some familiarity with concepts in child development, educational psychology, emotional intelligence and group dynamics. I'd also sprinkle in a little conflict resolution training for extra credit.


No it does not falls there. Not at all. Engaged studen on task does not imply what I wrote about.


I feel like in the future, there needs to be a move away from teacher based education to some sort autodidactism. The current models waste so much time.


I'm working on a project just like that. My MVP is going to be an entire course in an undergraduate college course. It will be the full course, nothing skipped or watered down like you see with most MOOCs these days. I am writing the textbook, study notes, practice problems (fully adaptive with analytics to help the student) and quizzes/exams. Everything is focused on the concept of "have you mastered this topic/skill/subject?". There is also going to be an interactive lecture system which basically works by the student watching some high-quality videos on the subject followed by doing practice problems or simulation exercises.

There is also more advanced stuff you can do with the concept like an intelligent tutoring system or adding in features to the lectures where students can ask the "teacher" questions in real time. I have already built a very basic prototype of it and it definitely works. Just imagine that. You're watching a lecture, learning some topic and then it just isn't clicking for you so you can ask a question immediately or ask for clarification on some subject. I am not talking about typing your question into some text box. I am talking about having a head set on where you can ask your question with your voice and then being able to get a response back that really solidifies the concept for you or makes it crystal clear.

This is all possible with existing technology. Nothing new needs to be invented, it simply needs to be built. Most MOOCs/online courses are heavily watered down because the workload required to build these types of systems is immense but I think the potential is huge in this area. From what I've seen, the young people definitely want to learn online, at their own pace and have access to high-quality learning platforms. I am also planning on offering the entire courses for free. Not really sure how I'll monetize it. Maybe donations?


I’m intrigued. Email me. My email is in my profile.


Even trying to learn autodidactally, there's still need for a teacher. Especially if you can work in smaller class sizes where you can ask for personal help and clarification. It's nice to have a teacher work with you in person over problems and other things you're unsure about. Stuff that a one-size-fits-all computer program (or educational system, like we have) can't do.

I've noticed that when trying to teach myself advanced math. I wish I had a teacher for those topics, where I could ask questions and just make sure I'm understanding things correctly.

Also, you'd have to address on whether they need to do this at home, or if there'd still be a school building they'll need to be at each day. If the former, what do you do for those whose parents aren't home during the day, or who sometimes only get to eat the two meals they're provided at school? How will you deal with kids interacting with each other, and making sure they're not isolated, etc. etc. There's a lot more to think about than just "Online == less time wasting" (and even then, I think it highly depends on the student)


The first two questions can be solved through software. I've noticed that most people heavily underestimate what an algorithm is capable of doing. I know most will not believe this but an algorithm can do the same things as a human teacher. In fact, I would even say that in the future the best teachers in the world will be algorithms, not teachers.

Also think about how the whole teacher education model currently works. Students go to a lecture with 30 other kids and then the teacher presents the material, explains it and so on. Students ask questions during the lecture but there is very little actual one on one tutoring going on. If the students want one on one time then they will need to go to tutoring center (inconvenient) or teacher office hours. Even then, during those hours you have to hope that the teacher isn't already occupied by another student. Then think about this issues on a global scale. Do you think Zimbabwe or Ethiopia have competent teachers? very few. So most students get nothing at all. They are completely left out. If a global education system is developed with algorithms being the teachers/tutors then that would be a huge revolution. Every student in the world would get an equal shot at having a high-quality education.

For the last question. That is a complete separate topic. Kids can get social interaction by a variety of other areas, such as, going to the park, playing with other kids in the neighborhood and so on.


I seriously doubt the first two questions can be solved via software, unless you want students to give up privacy in their own homes. There's nothing to prevent cheating and the student from using the internet or else.

As for meals, if you think software will cure all societal ills, then you might be the most naïve person alive. There are a lot of things software can do, but provide two free meals a day to students is not necessarily one of those things. Especially when getting meals to them outside the school year is more a political issue than a scholarship one.

As for your argument that an algorithm can do the same thing as a teacher, well, I'll believe it when I see it.

And I'm not arguing that the model we currently have is great. There's many ways it could be improved and fixed; but turning everything over to software is not the answer. Especially because kids need less interaction with software as it is, and more with each other.

Which brings me to the last topic... You're coming from an extremely privileged view if you think kids can get a lot of social interaction otherwise, especially when younger. Try living in a rural area without a car or access to someone to drive you around. Or in a neighborhood without many other kids. You're basically just stuck at home, with no interaction outside family. Which means even more screen-time, which means kids will be even more addicted and have even more problems with empathy and other skills that have to be learned from interaction.

Software can't solve every problem, and there's some that it shouldn't try to completely solve anyway. It can definitely be a great tool to help students learn, but it shouldn't replace classroom interaction, if only because of the social aspect of it and to decrease reliance on mobile devices and electronics.


You're right that software can't solve every problem but for education, it can solve a great deal. I know it is hard to believe what I am talking about but it is true. Software, when designed correctly, is an extremely powerful and amazing tool to use. Even if there was an all-knowing AI teacher there would still be schools and teachers. Those facilities are paid for by tax dollars so as long as the state keeps funding it, then it will continue to exist, even if students can get a superior education online.

I see these tools mainly being used by students that want to self-study a topic that is not available to them. For example, high school kids that want to maybe take college classes while they are in high school. It is also great for students in other countries that don't have access to high-quality educational resources (teachers, books, tutors etc.).


Sure. Self-taught systems put a lot on responsibility on the student. Apprenticeship systems are very mentor-time-expensive and/or put responsibility on the student.

If the students were already so great at this, they could make do with so-so teachers. We do not expect as much from K-6 at least, for good reason. And that will not change soon.


> If the students were already so great at this, they could make do with so-so teachers.

It wastes the student's time tho.


The hard truth is not everyone can do that. The current models are broken, but something like them is necessary. I think what you really reach for here is Teachers as mentors when the door is open. We used to allow for that. We don't very much today.


I honestly think the best way might be the method advocated by Sal Kahn. [1] Basically, instead of students going over a lesson in class then taking home work to do to master it, they reverse that. They watch the lesson at home the night before, answer a few questions as an "exit slip" and then sleep on it. The next day they go to class and work on problems/ask questions with the teacher present to help them.

While it does have its issues, such as making sure students actually watch the videos, I think this is the best approach for certain subjects, especially math. It allows the students to do the problems where they can get feedback and guidance, instead of struggling with something they're failing to comprehend, which just leads to demotivating them. It also allows them some time to come up with questions related to the topic that might further their learning. There will likely be abuse from students who don't pay attention, and there are plenty of other issues (internet access being a huge one), but I could see some hope in this method.

[1] https://blog.blackboard.com/why-salman-khan-thinks-students-... is a nice write-up about it.


That method is far superior to the current method but teachers don't like it because it takes "resources" away from the teacher. That's the argument I've heard on other forums when discussing the flipping the classroom method. The teachers say that it is better if they explain the material in the classroom and answer questions immediately. So expect to get quite a bit of push back on the flipping the classroom method. That's the reality. I've noticed that there are quite a few teachers that are basically fearful of some new technology or method popping up that replaces them. Education has become far too political from what I've seen.


They have to know the material with that method.

I have a great career record in training. This is the method I use, but compressed a bit, due to shorter learning times.

The teachers employing this method will need to have very fully explored it. Then, when students see them, they are ready for all those interactions.

The difference is experience in guiding people through material, vs assisting them in applying and exploring it.

Frankly, guidance can be replaced.

Teachers who embrace the method, amd who make the investments will be invaluable. Each class they do improves them as much as it does students. Over time, there will be very little they cannot help students with.

Everyone gets real mastery.


Yeah, I've heard that argument as well, but I think it fails. As a math teacher myself, I would love it if kids would go read about the lecture at home and then we could work problems the next day. I try to do that anyway, but it's difficult when I've got a lot of material to cover and can't give them a day to practice after every lecture. Not to mention that a lot of kids don't know what they don't understand until they attempt to do it


Those attempts do three very important things:

Clarify poor understanding.

Result in awesome (for them) questions. They will be the ones they need, and often the more aggressive people will ask want type questions, seeking. All high value.

Educator will be challenged more deeply and broadly over time as they see better questions over time. New ones require effort, and that brings both greater mastery of the topic and how best to frame it up for people about to jump in and start understanding.

Should educators analyze those questions, they can augment all this by a quick "chalk talk" prep session to help all this along, stimulate more and better thinking.

This has been standard for me in various education roles over the years. It is rough the first few iterations, then very rewarding for all involved after that.

Turns out people, and their diverse backgounds and experiences will both approach things in surprising ways, as well as think in diverse, at times, equally surprising ways.

Understanding that better, as well as having some broad experience seen over time, very seriously improved my ability to identify with a given student and have a more accurate mental map of where they are. I can then seek to fill in gaps, or entertain extensions (their seeking) as time and their desire permit.

Worth it. Not the easiest way, but is my goto every time.


I completely agree. I try to do it as well, but my biggest issue with it ends up being time constraints and the teacher I mentioned in another post who wants us to all be doing the same thing on the same day (said teacher also prides herself on how fast she covers the material... Kids don't like it as she never reviews or spends more than a day on any topic)


Just revisited this. There should be topics and time.

How that time gets used is really driven by students. They get there, or they do not.

And, doing all this is expensive human time. They really want, need and should get there.

One thing I get to do, as my role is rarely formal education, is prepare 200 percent topic agendas. Prep as if I have Feynmans in the room. Look out! Here they come. :D

(And I am always hoping, because when that happens I myself am definitely going to learn something. Often pain in the ass learning, but it keeps my blood pumping, leaving nothing but getting after my own understanding.)

Then, assign priorities.

Basics get done no matter what. I do not want fails. Just quietly drop extras.

From there, I am highly likely to be golden. Usually, someone asks something new. Good. I got the prep done solid, so I research that one, add to the library of stuff I have ready.

Then, I coach them, they tackle stuff, wash, rinse repeat. I will, depending on material, also show a solution or few, again depending. Discuss, on to the next.

Over time, I get super good at whatever it is, and students can generally max out, getting all they can.

When I can, I set a chunk of the time aside as open time. People can fill a gap with that. Or explore, seek. Whatever. I am there to assist and challenge as they need.

This is a challenging way to do the work, but it works well. Often, I am doing this for people who just took jobs, or who have some requirement. Fails are painful. That is why I do it this way.

Just some context for my comments above.

There is a bonus. Once I have prepped and delivered a few times, I can often do the course by rote. My own mastery ends up solid, and I've got a ton of context, accumulated one student at a time, to work from when identifying where people new to me are, and what they are likely to need. Those go into the chalk talk, which almost always has custom bits tuned for the group at hand.

And that is tools, not solutions. They do that, picking up the reference material, exercizes, and the bits from the coaching talk.

Competency tends to come reasonably quickly. Then we do fun stuff, entertain any seeking, special needs, wants as time allows.


Too bad the students are not at the same frame of mind each day.


Yeah, for sure. I think it is a great method as well. When I was in college, I had a calculus teacher teach using the flipping the classroom method and it worked amazing. Probably one of the best math classes I have ever taken. At the time I had a serious "math-phobia" and calculus was something I had previously struggled in.

The teacher basically just made youtube videos and explained the concepts. If you didn't understand something you could just re-watch the video. After the video another set of videos explained problems and how to solve them.


I am a fan of that method.


"Computer" used to be a job description. That bundle of roles no longer exists. The roles have been partially automated, and moved elsewhere. Jobs that use spreadsheets for instance.

Surgery once did far more harm than good. Then took killing people for granted. Now it's discovering checklists, and teams, and crew resource management. Surgeons are discovering their roles of skilled technician and team manager conflict. Medical error is still a major cause of mortality. For a given condition, there's a very very broad spread of institutional competence. The best, are learning organizations with an intense focus on continuous process improvement and on not failing each and every one of their patients. The worst... don't wash their hands going from bathroom to ICU.

Instructors at first-tier universities describe incoming introductory science students as expecting to be "spoon fed" - lacking both the skills and willingness to wrestling with a body of knowledge to extract understanding. With wealth, they've had such "good teachers", they haven't needed to. Consider a country with a focus on memorize-and-regurgitate - even more so than the USA. When a school fails to teach memorization, it's at least easy to recognize the failure. But what might equitable and effective science education look like? If every freshman class resembled incoming Ivy, a question might then be: "ok, we've nailed equity... now when are we going to make a start on effective?" Chemistry education research describes pre-college chemistry education content as "incoherent", leaving both students and teachers deeply steeped in misconceptions. With science education at least, we're currently failing badly and pervasively.

Tech is coming. VR/AR, hybrid human-computer teams, ML, spoken dialog system, etc, etc.

"Classroom teacher" is bundle of roles of breathtaking difficulty and scope. As with surgeon, those roles are now being specialized and rebundled. Like barber surgeon, it was a bundling that required accepting that we would pervasively fail our patients. Perhaps decades from now, we'll end up with something like a "classroom teacher", but with a vastly greater support system. Or perhaps people will forget that "classroom teacher" was once a job description.


There seems to be a strong divide on whether excellent teaching can make a significant difference to poor kids. Typically this mirrors the left-right political divide.

To quote from the article:

"While teacher effectiveness may be the most salient in-school factor contributing to student academic outcomes, it contributes a relatively small slice — no more than 14 percent, according to a recent RAND Corporation analysis of teacher effectiveness — to the overall picture. A far bigger wedge is influenced by out-of-school variables over which teachers have little control: family educational background, the effects of poverty or segregation on children, exposure to stress from gun violence or abuse and how often students change schools, owing to homelessness or other upheavals."

"Teaching does matter, and it can improve. But there is little evidence — at least to date — that it can counter the effects on children of attending neighborhood schools that remain racially and economically isolated."

I find this attitude difficult to reconcile with other things I've read about teaching poor and minority kids. For example, here is a summary of a few studies as reported in Teaching as Leadership [1]:

"The schools that are highly effective produce results that almost entirely overcome the effects of student background" [2]

"Having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap" [3]

"Differences in this magnitude -- 50 percentile points in just three years -- are stunning. For an individual child, it means the difference between a 'remedial' label and placement in the accelerated or even gifted track. And the difference between entry into a selective college and a lifetime of low-paying, menial work" [4]

Many charter schools use a lottery to determine which students are enrolled, and many studies have taken advantage of such 'natural experiments'. This paper [5] represents a good overview of such studies. It seems that some charter schools can have significant effects on learning. In a Boston study, "Abdulkadiroglu et al. (2011)...find very large average effects: charter school attendance increases state-level English/language arts and math performance test scores by 0.2 and 0.35 standard deviations per year respectively. Given that that the achievement gap between black and white students in Massachusetts is about 0.7 to 0.8 standard deviations, these estimates suggest that three years of charter school attendance for blacks would eliminate the black-white performance gap."

However, the same paper also says that at KIPP charter schools, "School hours are extended typically to between 7:30AM and 5:00PM and include occasional Saturdays and summer weeks, and tutoring is also offered during these times." so I wonder to what degree the 'value added' by top charter schools comes simply from teaching more.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Teaching-As-Leadership-Effective-Achi...

[2] Marzano, R. J. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2003, p. 7

[3] Kane, T., Gordon, R. and Staiger, D. Identifying Effective Teachers Useing Performance on the Job Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2004, p. 8

[4] Peske, H. and Haycock, K. Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Short-Changed on Teacher Quality: A Report and Recommendations by the Education Trust. Washington, D.C.: Education Trust, 2006, p. 11

[5] http://www.umass.edu/preferen/You%20Must%20Read%20This/JEPCh...


Thank you for this.

I homeschooled my twice exceptional sons for years and did some volunteer work with an educational organization to support that.

I pulled my sons out of school in part because they didn't want to work with me or my sons. One son was a straight A student whose writing was below grade level. Rather than acknowledge that he had a disability, they pointed to his gifted status and chalked up this one weak area to laziness. Meanwhile, the teacher was unwilling to meet me for a couple of minutes at the end of the day to help me help him stay on track.

There are many wonderful and dedicated teachers. But they aren't all wonderful and dedicated (among other things).


It's a lot easier than many people believe: you give them a good script, and a year or two of training in how to deliver it.


While there is an art/talent to it, there are a lot of basics that are not followed by a lot of teachers.

Like ENUNCIATING. Like not putting students on the spot or saying "this is wrong, what is the matter with you" when given a wrong answer.

Balancing strictness with the level and audience.

Balancing between getting to a point and explaining some other details that might be important.

Trying to find a best way of explaining some concepts, maybe explaining it differently to different students.

Usually the higher the study level the worse the professors/instructor are at pedagogy.


"Like not putting students on the spot or saying "this is wrong, what is the matter with you" when given a wrong answer."

A wrong answer should never be a problem. Students are there to learn. If they know everything they can stay at home. They are in school to MAKE mistakes.


While there is an art/talent to it, there are a lot of basics that are /not followed/ by a lot of shitposters.

Like READING THE ARTICLE. Like not assuming that one has all of the answers (or even all of the questions) for a complex, thorny problem.


Please don't break the site guidelines, even when another comment was bad or you feel that it was. I know it's not easy when the topic is one you feel strongly about, but it's necessary in order to prevent the site from destroying itself. The container is fragile here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


That wasn't a shitpost. I've spent my life teaching, and a good part of my work has been trying to undo the damage done by teachers who say things like "this is wrong, what's the matter with you".

I became a teacher because I love math and science. When I was in college I noticed how many people hate those two subjects. When I started asking around and trying to figure out why so many people hate these subjects, it almost always came back to how they were taught.

Some people are resilient enough to hear things like this and let it slide. But many young people who spend a year or more with a teacher who tells them there's something wrong with them are significantly affected by that experience.


The article is about a pretty herculean effort to improve the level of teaching in a particular low-performing school. The post was effectively "teachers would be better if they were better teachers" which doesn't engage at all with the content of the article, or the central question of /how/ one might take on the problem of improving teaching quality.


a good teacher is a good motivator. it's simple as that.




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