The Science and Craft of Teaching

Monday, August 04, 2014

Principal John Curry observing teacher Noah Foster at work, at the Community Action Middle School (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

With lawsuits trying to make it easier to rid the system of ineffective teachers, more attention is going to how to teach teaching.Elizabeth Green, co-founder of Gotham Schools (now Chalkbeat) and the author of Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), explores "best practices" for training educators.

EVENT: Elizabeth Green reads tonight at Book Court, 163 Court St, in Brooklyn at 7pm.


Elizabeth Green

Comments [16]

Raconteuse from Cubicle Jungle in Midtown Manhattan

Speaking to the question regarding respect for teachers in Japan: I also taught ESL in Kyushu and was amazed at the deference afforded me...much more so than in Brazil--and at the mere age of 21! Stateside, the title of Teacher is probably currently analogous to an Internet Entrepreneur, Ceo or (unfortunately) a Pro Athlete.

According to Wikipedia: The word SENSEI (先生) is a Japanese word that is literally translated as 'person born before another'. In general usage, it is used, with proper form, after a person's name, and means 'teacher, and the word is used as a title to refer to or address teachers, professors, professionals such as lawyers, CPA and doctors, politicians, clergymen, and other figures of authority. The word is also used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill: accomplished puppeteers, novelists, musicians, and artists for example are addressed in this way.

Aug. 05 2014 10:59 AM
counterblast from NYC

A few others have noted this but it needs to be repeated. Too much attention is being paid to creating the perfect teacher and no time is being given to creating an effective student. Why is there the absence of such a discussion in the American Media? Ms. Green repeats the same clichés and continues to muddle the issues. Ms. Green like so many others have found the education debate a wonderful means of self promotion but there is not much depth to her analysis. Why, we need to ask, is so much attention given over to a model of education located in middle school or the lower grades? Why should these models be the measure of all things? This is what I mean: the most important thing in the classroom is not the teacher or student----it is the thing that needs to be learned. But you would never think this if you listen to or read those teaching in Schools of Education or to those working in professional education. The most important thing students needs to learn is the discipline it takes to learn and yet how do we teach students this in school? This is why many who teach in higher education will tell you that the best students they have are international students who are not products of the American educational system---even from the best public schools. These international students out work even the best American students. So political leaders--like the mayor and professional educators can continue to play their games but the rest of world --and American Higher Education--has moved on and discovered that they do not need poorly educated Americans with poor discipline and attitudes. And American Companies have discovered this as well---if there will be any American Corporations left anymore in America. Maybe we need to export our students overseas to other educational systems who will be able to educate our students without the burden of too much poorly considered education philosophy, child development psychology, social ideology, etc. With discipline all is possible and without it no student will ever learn. So why is this absent in all public discussions of public education in America?

Aug. 04 2014 09:17 PM
Bob Abate from Yonkers

I've been a volunteer Math Tutor working with several hundred students, ranging from 5th graders through adults at a community college. During that time, there have not been twelve students who fully knew their Multiplication Tables - a most fundamental underpinning for Math success. Of course, virtually all knew their 2x, 5x & 10x tables but beyond that they virtually hit a wall. At that point, many would immediately whip out their calculators to find the answer!

I showed these students the benefits of mastering the Tables - today and for the rest of their lives. Once they saw it, they were excited and agreed. I then devised a very simple and highly effective way to teach these students the complete Tables in a half-day.

The only resistance to any of this was from the "educators". They objected to what they called memorization. They had "no time" for teaching the Tables because it wasn't part of their syllabus, schedule or upcoming test. They wanted their students to "think", not do "drill and kill."

Once they have passed their Math exams/regents, most students will rarely use those subjects in real life. Some will go on to do so in the sciences, engineering and business related areas. However, each and every student can use their mastery of the Tables in everyday life from supermarket shopping to most every other transaction.

Failure is not an acceptable option in this endeavor.

Bob Abate

Aug. 04 2014 04:58 PM

Sue from NYC, kids are already being overburdened with too much busy work that is not meaningful. They do not need to spend more time at school, they need to have all those other activities reintegrated back into the school curriculum. Fortunately, my son went to elementary and middle schools were the teachers were predominantly experienced and enthusiastic and managed to work around the "no child left behind" strategies so that my son had an enriched curriculum.

As for practicing math - my son didn't need some ridiculous "study his brains out schedule" for more hours than adults work to be able to excel. He did study, on his own, for the SHSATs but not excessively. He is now at Bronx Science where he is excelling even though he still has time to play piano and hang out with his friends. He's just motivated and uses his time constructively.

As for teaching to "everyone" what rot. My niece took an entirely different path. Bored to tears in middle school and high schoolin Southern California. Doodled her way through classes much to her mother's dismay. She managed to find the Academy of Art in San Francisco, which she started on campus and finished online at home. She has NO student debts - zero zippo nada. And she just nailed a job with Marvel Comics as a writer.

My son would never thrive at the Academy of Art. My niece would have foundered at Bronx High School of Science.

Aug. 04 2014 01:00 PM
oscar from ny

Freaking leave the teachers alone and support them because they're here to teach your precious little whatever and since Blomberg time and mind the city has been bashing teachers..I was a teachers once I don't want to be even near any of your children most of them are misbehaved confused and their parents are also overwhelming, my sister teaches in Manhattan for rich kids and she still has difficulty with these little monsters so give teachers a brake

Aug. 04 2014 11:50 AM

As an 8th grader I tutored 6th and 7th in reading. Consisted mostly of supplying the correct pronunciation or a definition so they could continue to PRACTICE. I dare say any interested person can tutor. The tutoring part of learning - repeated practice until mastery - will be moving over to computers in the next generation for most students, none of that pesky personal embarrassment involved in classroom learning.

Classroom teaching will become a more highly-prized skill while many classroom tasks - for the bad teachers, too many - will be relegated to the machines.

Good teachers are imperative but the definition of what makes a good teacher will be in heavy flux.

Aug. 04 2014 11:22 AM
Jane from Westport,CT

There are rich and important resources that are coming out of the research of Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Specifically, the research group, Project Zero, is exploring and promoting the idea of Visible Thinking. There are too many details to enumerate here but it is an exciting and challenging way of reframing and retooling teacher practice. It goes hand in hand with Teaching for Understanding, a framework which also came out of the work of PZ researchers. In both these frames, teachers become more like facilitators and are co-learners in the educational journey children take, they are in charge absolutely but they are not "sage on the stage". Also, learning as research is showing over and over again is social, collaboration is a key piece of constructing knowledge and building understanding. And a key move students learn in these models is how to craft and ask big, serious and important questions, questions which will lead to inquiry, which will lead to students developing understanding of authentic key concepts, principles, ideas and questions of disciplinarians in fields of sciences, mathematics, visual arts, music, other arts, literature, history and the sub-disciplines that come out of these. In all of this, students develop a critical sense of agency as learners. For any interested in pursuing this, visit Project Zero's website,or the Visible Thinking webpage.

Aug. 04 2014 11:15 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

From the perspective of a student, I have had teachers who were wonderful, could relate well to the class, who made the subject matter interesting and who could teach anyone anything. On the other hand, I have also had teachers who were unskilled, unable to communicate well with students, indifferent, unable to answer student questions. Some of the worst teachers I've ever had have been college professors, who are allowed to get by solely on the basis of the knowledge of their subject matter, but had absolutely no idea how to share that knowledge with others. Quite apart from having good teachers in grades K-12, I think college professors ought to have teaching credentials before they are unleashed on unsuspecting, paying students.

From the perspective of a teacher, I prefer teaching individuals to teaching a class, mostly because today's junior high and high school students are indifferent and hard to corral. Teaching individuals is great because I can get into one head at a time and make the material relevant and comprehensible. When that individual's light bulb suddenly flicks on, that is a moment of extreme satisfaction for me.

Aug. 04 2014 11:14 AM
William from Westchester

A great deal of attention is given to teacher competence; I can't recall any attention to the question of student learnability. No tests are administered to determine whether students are actually capable of what will be required of them. We've had reports of falsifying test results that cover up these inabilities. No child should be left behind, but they should be located somewhere they actually would thrive.

Aug. 04 2014 11:13 AM
Guy from NYC

Great! Another hand in the ed reform honeypot. Laying the successes and failures of the entire education system at the feet of teachers--the only way to get attention to your book is to focus in this way apparently. Lost in this young woman's interrogative inflected naïveté are the same old mistaken assumptions:
*We should focus only on teachers, not systems, not the little darlings, not poverty, not corporate meddling, not bloated bureaucracy, etc.
*Making cross-national, cross-cultural comparisons without explaining where the societies differ in significant ways from the situation in the US.
Another cowardly echo of the magic bullet theory-a "highly effective teacher" will solve all society's problems. Yawn.

Aug. 04 2014 11:05 AM
Sue from NYC

While the school day being shortened for the teachers, so they can improve their skills, is a fine idea, the school day for students should be lengthened. We should bring in a whole different after school staff to provide enrichment programs to the kids, like art and coding and sports and music. So while the teachers are working on their own to become better teachers, the students would be doing the fun learning they must eschew during the earlier part of the school day in favor of academics.

Aug. 04 2014 10:59 AM
Joyce from NYC

Let's assume that all of this is wonderful -- no question. BUT:

Teacher's will not be able to teach math unless they KNOW MATH.

Until we require that, until we test for that, teaching math will continue to be a joke.

Aug. 04 2014 10:55 AM

Why do Americans stink at math?

Americans stink at math because we don't have facility with simple arithmetic which is largely a matter of recognizing situations and repeating basics which were learned by rote. The technology to have a machine do it is introduced to soon and relied on too much.

Give it twenty years, the same question will be asked about why Americans can't park a car.

Aug. 04 2014 10:53 AM
Kim from Rockaway Park, NY

In my first five years as an inexperienced NYC Teaching Fellow, I was placed in an elementary school in Crown Heights. The principal rarely left her office and each day berated teachers over the PA system during instructional time. There was no professional development and as a new teacher, I was supposed to be observed fifteen times during the first three years. Instead, I was observed twice in five years! In fact, my third observation was a copy of my first observation with the dates changed. How was I supposed to develop into a highly effective teacher? I did it on my own. I took classes for my master's degree and read professional literature; I watched videos and refined my practice. I also transferred to a new school and specifically targeted schools with strong leadership (test scores, turnover rate). Now I work at a very high performing school where the principal is highly involved in the faculty's development. I am offered constructive criticism, meaningful professional development every week, and because my principal has set very high expectations, the faculty is top notch. I believe great teachers can be built but they must have the proper leadership and guidance.

Aug. 04 2014 09:47 AM
Rick V from Livingston NJ

I would say the other half of the education equation is PARENTS! Not so much being involved with the schools and interacting with teachers, which are important as well, but instilling in their children manners, respect and a passion for learning. A good teacher can only do so much if the student is not engaged in the classroom. I think a lot of parents send their kids off to school and expect the system to "raise" their kids. Teachers already have to not only teach, but be social workers, do conflict resolution, child behaviorist/psychologist. All while worrying about how the latest standardize test scores reflect on their in classroom performance. Let's start pointing the blame on teachers, and point the fingers back at us, the parents.

Aug. 04 2014 08:49 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's important to have a good teacher, of course, but there is the other half - students who are grateful for a teacher who teaches them, grateful for whatever they learn, willing to help the teacher and be respectful. Some teachers leave because the discipline problems are too great.

Aug. 04 2014 08:00 AM

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