Since the time of the Ancients, the art of teaching has sparked intense discussion both inside and outside of the academy. In the March 7 edition of the Sunday New York Times Magazine, Elizabeth Green, editor of GothamSchools.org, tackles the whole question in a splendid feature essay. Her article focuses on Doug Lemov, an Albany (NY) educational consultant, who had an epiphany five years ago while trying to assess why American school reform efforts were faltering. After observing dispirited teachers in action in the urban schools of upstate New York, Lemov reached the conclusion that teachers simply needed better training. Like most North American teacher educators, he also believes that good teaching is not just instinctive — “a kind of magic performed by born superstars” — but, instead, consists of deliberate techniques that can be taught or imparted to others.
The fundamental question remains: Are good teachers simply born or can they be made? Here is how Elizabeth Green framed the issue:
“But what makes a good teacher? There have been many quests for the one essential trait, and they have all come up empty-handed. Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try. When Bill Gates announced recently that his foundation was investing millions in a project to improve teaching quality in the United States, he added a rueful caveat. ‘‘Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teaching,’’ Gates said. ‘‘I’m personally very curious.’’
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?”
This week Educhatter asks the same questions posed by The New York Times Learning Network blog: What do you think? To what extent can good teaching can be taught?”