Monday, March 8, 2010

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teachers

With the latest NYT Magazine piece on training better teachers putting the subject front and center, it's worth adding this month-old Atlantic article to your reading list. Over the past decade, Teach For America has overhauled their application process in the hopes of getting a higher number of teachers who are effective in the classroom. It turns out that the best way to do this is to (a) hire candidates who have demonstrated  some organizatoinal managment and/or who have overcome adversity, and (b) pick candidates who's performance during a practice teaching session demonstrate instincts that are similar to the advice given in Lemov's Taxonomy. Here's the money quote:

Strong teachers insist that effective teaching is neither mysterious nor magical. It is neither a function of dynamic personality nor dramatic performance," Farr writes in Teaching as Leadership, a book coming out in February from Farr and his colleagues. The model the book lays out, Farr is careful to say, is not the only path to success. But he is convinced it can improve teaching--and already has. In b2007, 24 percent of Teach for America teachers moved their students one and a half or more years ahead, according to the organization's internal reports. In 2009, that number was up to 44 percent.

As best I can tell, this is a real golf shot in the field of education. There's a huge difference between a school where a quarter of the teachers are great and a school where almost half the teachers are great. Now, Teach For America is obviously in the fortunate situation of having a large applicant pool of high caliber students for a small number of slots, but even an urban school district could use this knowledge to try to shift teachers who met TFA's criteria to high-need schools.

Improving teacher quality will probably involve a two-track approach. If the average teacher salary were around $75,000 instead of $50,000 that would make a big difference in the set of people that apply for teaching jobs. But even then, the country simply needs so many teachers that we will have to identify classroom techniques and lesson plans that help turn low-performing teachers into mediocre teachers, mediocre teachers into good teachers, and good teachers into great teachers. There's no reason that we can't do both of these things at the same time.
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