Education Opinion

A Prescription for Better Teachers?

By Walt Gardner — March 05, 2010 1 min read
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Just as diets to lose weight will always be in demand, so too will recipes to excel as a teacher. The latest example is a book that is scheduled for release in April titled “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.”

The New York Times Magazine gave the book unusual publicity in its story on Mar. 7 (“Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green). What the writer essentially said is that Doug Lemov, a former teacher, principal and charter school founder, has developed a surefire way to be successful in front of a class.

Lemov’s Taxonomy, as the book is unofficially called, argues that teachers who use his principles will be better teachers. Why the taxonomy is getting such attention is hard to understand because similar claims have been made over the years by others. The trouble is that teachers can violate all such stipulated principles and still get remarkable results.

That’s because research supporting such practices is known as tendency research. It means that teachers who adhere to them tend to be more effective. But teachers can disregard the principles and still get outstanding results. Their inimitable style and personality are likely responsible.

There is also a difference between effective and inspired teachers. Frank McCourt, Pat Conroy and Jaime Escalante fall into the latter category. They posted legendary outcomes by following their inner voices. They were virtuosos. And like all virtuosos, they were unable to explain in ways that can be emulated how they came up with their classroom techniques.

If they could, then schools of education would merely have to teach their techniques to their students to assure equal success. That’s why I question whether Lemov’s taxonomy doesn’t promise more than it can possibly deliver. As in enduring personal relationships, chemistry plays such a vital role. Yet no one to date has been able to develop a reliable way of predicting which two people will click.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.