Can you teach teaching?

In this remarkably insightful article, Doug Lemov seems to think so:

Central to Lemov’s argument is a belief that students can’t learn unless the teacher succeeds in capturing their attention and getting them to follow instructions. Educators refer to this art, sometimes derisively, as “classroom management.” The romantic objection to emphasizing it is that a class too focused on rules and order will only replicate the power structure; a more common view is that classroom management is essential but somewhat boring and certainly less interesting than creating lesson plans. While some education schools offer courses in classroom management, they often address only abstract ideas, like the importance of writing up systems of rules, rather than the rules themselves. Other education schools do not teach the subject at all. Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar.

I confess I am not a neutral in this debate — Doug is a long-time friend and former teammate, and it was he who first introduced me to the main tenants of education reform almost 15 years ago.  I’ve always considered him one of the most thought-provoking people I know.  We first talked about this subject when Doug stared on his taxonomy years ago.  I think it should be required critical reading for both teachers and parents (although I wish there was a free summary available, you can get a gist through Google Reader).

And the point here is both profound and simple.  While some teachers will recognize a special innate ability in a student, they chose their profession because they believe in their ability to help kids become better learners.  It is a small but critical step to extend this to the other end of the classroom — yes there are some teachers with native skills, but there are ways to help adults become better teachers.

I have seen very few teachers who are not devoted to their profession, and absolutely none that began with less than the best intentions.  I believe strongly that various grinding gears of our public education system prevent teachers from being successful.  I hope this article and the subsequent discussion help even the playing field.  Just as every child deserves a quality education, every teacher deserves the ability — and should embrace the responsibility — to fully develop their craft.

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