Teaching Profession

Can an ‘Iron Chef'-Style Contest Work to Showcase Good Teaching?

By Madeline Will — January 05, 2018 4 min read

What does teaching have in common with “Iron Chef,” “Project Runway,” or “The Voice”?

For many educators, the answer is “not much.” But the education news site Chalkbeat believes there could be value in letting teachers show their craft to a broader audience, similar to the goal of those reality TV competitions.

To that end, Chalkbeat has created the “Great American Teach-Off,” a live event meant to demonstrate good instruction to a crowd of educators and non-educators. It will take place in March during SXSW EDU, the annual education conference in Austin, Texas.

The Teach-Off, which will be in the area of elementary math, will feature two teams of teachers (with two teachers per team) showing their approaches to a “teaching challenge” onstage, with a “class” of seven to 10 adult volunteers filling in as their students. A host, along with a panel of judges who are teacher educators, will moderate the event by “pointing out all the cool, daring teaching moves the teams made,” according to a description of the event. Both teams of teachers will receive a teacher coach beforehand to help them plan their approach.

The teaching challenge, which will be assigned ahead of time by Chalkbeat, will feature a demonstration of an instructional activity in order to “show the complexity of teaching in a period of time much shorter than an average lesson,” wrote the news site’s editor-in-chief Elizabeth Green.

She continued: “The crucial and essential work of understanding students’ developing thinking over the course of a year cannot be directly seen, but with a solid discussion afterward of what the slice of teaching shows us, it does not fully disappear.”

The announcement of the Teach-Off sparked concern and outcry among teachers on social media.

In a blog post, Dan Meyer, a former high school math teacher who has a huge following among educators, wrote that good teaching involves extensive decision-making and a relationship with students.

“A live event with an audience you don’t know and can’t interact with individually will necessarily flatten ‘teaching’ down to its most presentational aspects, down to teachers dressing up in costumes, down to Robin Williams standing on desks in ‘Dead Poets Society,’” he wrote.

Originally, Chalkbeat had planned to name a winner of the Teach-Off, but on Thursday, Green wrote that Chalkbeat had eliminated the competitive aspect due to public outrage. Instead, each participating team will receive a prize.

” As we saw many teachers recoil at the thought of a competition, we decided the narrative stakes were less important than what was always our ultimate goal: to showcase the way that teachers plan, re-plan, re-think, revise, both beforehand and on the spot, and to honor that work with all the force we can muster,” Green wrote. “If we pull this off, the real winners won’t be either team of teachers. They’ll be the audience and the general public, who will learn what it takes to engage in the professional practice on display.”

This soothed some educators’ concerns:

Still, some teachers are still concerned about the logistics and implications of such a performative event:

And some educators remain skeptical, but hopeful:

What do you think? Bad idea, or a fun event with potential to celebrate and showcase good teaching? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.