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Very Interesting NY Times Magazine Article On Teaching

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There’s a very interesting article coming out in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. It’s called Building A Better Teacher.

There’s a lot of stuff there worth thinking about.

One thing that stuck out for me, though, was that the writer, Elizabeth Green, wrote a lot about the importance of connecting classroom management with content knowledge.

I wasn’t sure, though, if I agreed with how she treated that issue. I may also be misinterpreting what she wrote.

I’m convinced that effective classroom management is a key ability any teacher must have. I’m not as convinced that a teacher must have an enormous amount of content knowledge in the subject they’re teaching (see my previous post — and the lively discussion in its comments section — How Much “Content” Knowledge Do You Really Need To Be An Effective Teacher?). Obviously, you need some basics (the article refers to a teacher who did a math problem incorrectly), but it seems to me for most classes (except for advanced ones), a huge amount of teacher knowledge is not necessary.

I do believe, however, that, in addition to classroom management skills, a teacher needs to have a good curriculum and training in effective instructional strategies to deliver and engage students in it. I’ve also seen that there are a number of very effective instructional strategies that are not “content-specific” and, instead, can be used effectively across content areas. In fact, Pebble Creek Labs has done an exceptional job of both good curriculum development and teaching instructional methods to teachers across the country and in our school. I write about how I apply some of them with English Language Learners in my upcoming book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work.

I think focusing on those “universal” instructional methods might make things more simple in teacher development.

Maybe it’s a matter of semantics, and she might mean the same thing. For example, she talks about “content can’t be completely divorced from mechanics.” But it’s unclear — to me at least — if she thinks “content” is the same as “curriculum” and if “mechanics,” in addition to meaning classroom management, also means instructional strategies.

Nevertheless, it’s one of the better articles I’ve seen looking at some of the issues involved in helping teachers get better.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s feedback.

Thanks to The Educated Reporter for the tip on the article.

(Just a quick addendum: After seeing the clips, and re-reading the article, I have to say that, though the techniques sound good and I’m sure would be somewhat helpful at any school, I suspect they look a whole lot better at charter schools where they can be far more selective of their students. The clips appear to be from charters, and it also appears that the primary person profiled in the article has most of his experience in charters. You might want to see Charter Schools and “Creaming”)

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

3 Comments

  1. You may well be right.
    We ask teachers a really high content knowledge in the subject we teach but almost no training in classroom management. The process is painful particularly at the beginning. Going from studying Shakespeare’s sonnets to classes with up to 37 students in the suburbs of Paris was tough, “l’épreuve du feu”.
    I think that is the reason why when we compare it to other European countries our teaching gets such bad results in France.

  2. A key component to effective classroom management begins with the quality of the curriculum. If it’s meaningful and goals are explicit, most students will engage.

    Depth of knowledge is key to building a conceptual unit of study.

    Sometimes the complexity of new concepts direct a teacher toward particular methods or strategies but that teacher has to first have a deep understanding of the bigger ideas in order to lay the groundwork for students to traverse that road.

    How on earth are teachers to assess a deepening understanding of complex concepts in their students if they haven’t arrived there themselves?

  3. I really liked this article on Growing Better Teachers. I agree with the article that teachers need content knowledge. Over the 28 years that I have taught ESL, I have spent a lot of time in general education classrooms. I have seen what happens when teachers lack real understanding of key concepts. You can’t teach what you really don’t understand on a deep level. Some teachers opt out completely and tell students to read and content text and answer the questions!!
    I have also seen teachers (especially those new to the field) over the years who cannot control a classroom so very little learning is happening. Classroom management is key to helping students make 10 months of progress during the school year.
    I agree that content can’t be divorced from classroom management. I don’t think this means curriculum. The content is the stuff that’s in a curriculum. The curriculum, I think, is the plan for teaching content and deciding what content to teach.

    Thank you for pointing out that Charter schools have a “selected” student body. It’s a point I didn’t consider.

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