A New York Times magazine article, with a small tantalizing set of specifics, about the “form” of great teaching and how to instill it in novices. Don’t worry, we can all buy the book, “Teach like a Champion,” from here. I will, once Amazon shipping costs less than seven times the price of the book.
The work represents an interesting bit of moderation, a point in between the notions that great teaching is innate and that it can be performed entirely from a script. Instead, Lemov (the guru featured in the article) advises that we teach a limited series of practical principles, 49 “bite-sized moves,” that can be applied across curricula and context. This resonates with me in a way that the blue “Teacher Talk” paragraphs in the margin of my Open Court reader never did. It is also a hopeful notion, as my courses and professional development on classroom management have always been simply desperate for a common vocabulary of excellence. The few specifics that are listed in the article and on the website, “strong voice,” “cold call,” “positive framing,” “injecting joy” and “precise praise” are hardly novel ideas, but there are 43 more to read about.
However, my current placement has pushed me to question whether “championship teaching” can ever be truly context-free. Here in an environment of small classes, few tests and extremely easy-going kids, I’ve been pushed to change my “form” significantly. Here, I’ve found a whole new set of challenges in running a classroom and lesson. They center on the facilitating, though I don't like that word, and questioning that is done when the basics are thoroughly achieved and there is time to delve deeper. How, when and to what extent do you offer help to a group of kids struggling with a project? What are the best ways to help kids explore new tools? How do you maximize the massive learning that can come out of really good games? Admittedly, these challenges are a bit more fun than wrestling with how to keep four extremely angry boys in a class of 36 from derailing my instruction completely, but they are challenges nonetheless.
I feel much more at home in the serious, urgent, objective-focused world of Lemov's "championship teaching," but the bar remains that all kids deserve teachers who thrive in the context of their classroom. Pick your analogy - lawyers, doctors, athletes, artists, engineers - all specialize to a degree, often very early on in their training (rather than their practice.) Perhaps we should consider this for educators? I think new teachers enter the profession with very different visions of where they'll work. Few are likely to switch, from the extremes of impoverished, crowded, test-driven public schools to low-accountability, high-resource private schools. And those that do will probably immediately or never want to switch back. I've even found that many lower and upper elementary teachers specialize, though certainly some of the best I know have experience in both of these domains. Further specialization might also enable better compensation schemes and remove some of the infamous irrelevancy of education school.
Our current reality is that I have a K-8 Multiple Subjects credential, meaning that the same set of ten-odd courses prepared me to teach phonics and middle school algebra. As I teach the kids...I don't know for sure what the answer is, but I can eliminate the one that's obviously wrong.