Skip to content

Great teachers make a difference. So do bad ones.

Manning, good. Leaf, bad.

Two great college quarterbacks. One makes it in the NFL, one doesn’t.

Yesterday’s post discussed a short essay by Malcolm Gladwell that highlights what some call the quarterback problem. A simple question with a difficult answer.

What college quarterbacks will succeed in the NFL?

Gladwell uses the problem faced by NFL general managers to extend the question into K-12 education.

What does a great teacher look like? And how do we find them?

Why worry about great teachers? Gladwell cites research documenting that great teachers transfer 1.5 years worth of content in a typical school year. Poor teachers? Barely 0.5 years worth.

About a year ago, NY Times journalist Elizabeth Green wrote Building a Better Teacher.

When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school’s control produced just a tiny impact, except for one: which teacher the student had been assigned to.

Green asks the same question Gladwell does.

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.

Gladwell has a solution.

Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers – that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible.

But Gladwell spent time with a variety of people, including Bob Pianta at the University of Virginia, and he began to realize that great teaching is incredibly complex. And now

this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar.


we shouldn’t be raising (teacher) standards. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree . . .

I’ve said before that we need higher standards for teachers. Ed programs should be more selective in who they let in – if they do, we’ll get better teachers on the other end. But Gladwell’s got me thinking about the quarterback problem. The best pre-service teachers may turn out to be the educational equivalent of Ryan Leaf.

The solution I’m starting to buy into?

Accept everybody. Anybody with a pulse. But judge them after they’ve started their jobs, not before.

That means the profession needs an “educational boot camp” –

. . . an apprenticeship that allows teacher candidates to be rigorously evaluated.

Find the best one by having them teach – then hire the great ones, get rid of the bad ones and train the average ones to get better. And you find the great ones in part by using some of the work that Doug Lemov has done.

Founder of Uncommon Schools, Lemov is the author of Teach Like a Champion – a collection of deliberate and intentional instructional techniques that he observed over time in the classrooms of great teachers.

. . . 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.

We need to observe the boot camp teachers and document who uses these techniques. Keep those. With those left, document who is willing to learn these techniques. Train those. If boot camp teachers don’t have these techniques and aren’t willing (or able) to use these techniques, they need to go.

As a profession, we need to stand behind the great teachers and be willing to push the poor ones out.

This may mean changing how we as teacher groups negotiate This may involve changing tenure. This may mean paying the great teachers more.

Both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly become a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward.

It may mean changing how we do a lot of things.

But great teachers make a difference. So do the bad ones.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Your posting is full of teasers: What ARE the techniques?

    Just from experience I believe the techniques involve strong communication skills. Break that down to ability to communicate in a variety of ways and contexts to reach different learning styles, communicating in a way that’s accessible to the student population, and details like using metaphors as explanation.

    March 31, 2011
    • glennw #

      You’re right. Strong communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal) are part of many of Lemov’s techniques.

      One of the things I like about Teach Like a Champion is Lemov’s comment that “simple is underrated.” I also like that many of the techniques described in the book also have video clips available in the attached DVD.

      See many of the techniques described at:


      April 4, 2011

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. K-12 Education has a quarterback problem « History Tech
  2. Being a great teacher means . . . « History Tech
  3. Personal professional growth and student evals | History Tech
  4. Chocolate & peanut butter. Professional growth & student evaluations | Doing Social Studies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: