The Teaching Mystique

March 8, 2010

“Her somewhat surprising conclusion: Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math.”

That teaching is an “extraordinarily specialized” skill is apparently news to The New York Times, but not to anyone who has actually spent time in a classroom, where one garbled sentence can make the difference between a successful activity and a wasted hour. But as much as I would like to mock the somewhat obvious truths presented as revelations in this article  in today’s New York Magazine (which serves to prove just how disconnected policy makers are), I’m glad to finally see some education common sense in the media. Compare “Building A Better Teacher” with The Atlantic‘s “What Makes a Great Teacher?” and you’ll see what I meant when I railed about the specter of the “bad teacher.”

For three years, I had the privilege to work with an extraordinary teacher. She was extraordinary not because she was a doctoral student at TC or because she never complained (she complained pretty much every day) or  because she was being rewarded for high test scores with high pay (definitely not that.) She was extraordinary because she understood the art of teaching. Little things. All the students were seated at tables, and each table was named after a children’s book author. When she wanted everyone to return to their seats, she didn’t just say “get started.” She called the table names one by one to avoid confusion and mess. She had students move from rows to a circle on the carpet in the middle of a read aloud to allow them to move their bodies, get out their energy and refocus. And when a student wasn’t on task, she’d look at them, frown, and say “Is that a smart choice?” This is not grit, or raw talent, or voodoo: it’s the product of years of personal learning, self-criticism and constructive guidance.  Good teachers are made, not born or incentivized.

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One Response to “The Teaching Mystique”

  1. k said

    yes — the older i get, the more impressed i become at the skills displayed by good teachers in elementary school, especially. watching my mother at work, and looking at how much effort she puts into planning and learning and reviewing means that i’m furious when people make assumptions about lower elementary teachers.

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