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Now This Sounds Like An Essential Quality A Teacher Should Have…


The New York Times Book Review printed a very short interview with author Steven Pinker a week last week. It was same issue in which Pinker had written a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book.

Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

“…Pinker, the author of “How the Mind Works” and “The Blank Slate,” acknowledges that academic explainers have their own faults. “Academics lack perspective. In a debate on whether the world is round, they would argue ‘no,’ because it’s an oblate spheroid,” he said. “They suffer from ‘the curse of knowledge’: the inability to imagine what it’s like not to know something that they know. That makes them underestimate the sophistication of readers and write in motherese rather than explaining concepts from the ground up.”

That sounds like a great quality a teacher should have:

The ability to imagine what it’s like not to know something that they know.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. The “Curse of Knowledge” is discussed very well in Made To Stick by Dan and Chip Heath. Excellent read for teachers.

    By applying the Heaths’ SUCCESs approach, my ELL students’ success in understanding Social Studies concepts has improved. In addition, their confidence in themselves, their trust in me, and their comprehension in other classrooms is growing too.

    Thanks for your work, Larry.


  2. Larry,

    So true! (and that’s what makes Pinker a better teacher than Chomsky).

    I was giving a workshop this week and was asked the question “What is the one quality you should look for in a teacher?”. I gave a similar reply but called it “transference”. A kind of empathy and ability to put oneself in the seat of the students. It is a quality that can be measured and which should be looked for.

    I also mentioned – if a teacher doesn’t have a picture library (my first question at a job interview), they get put to the bottom of the pile! You can’t imagine how many teachers, even those with years in the profession don’t!


  3. Hello Larry and David,

    What a coincidence! Just yesterday I wrote something very similar about teachers’ qualities. I said that teachers should be able to wear their student’s shoes. Forgive me if that doesn’t sound truly English since I am “truly” Spanish.
    By the way, it happens that I do have a huge picture library, I never thought of it as a necessary or required tool, now I see you do and realize how important it is.

    Thanks to both of you.

  4. Rosa,

    That’s a good way to put it!

    I’m not saying that there aren’t teachers out there who are stellar but don’t have a picture library. This is possible. But all things equal – it is a tool like a chalkboard, photocopier, our experience that we can use to great effect with students. Even better, if it is on a computer screen! I see many “backpacking” or “new” ESL / EFL teachers and I’m most surprised at how much of the teaching is poor in the use of visuals. ..



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