TWITA: How to Improve Teachers

This is another installment in the occasional series, “That’s What I’m Talking About”, in which I share the writing of other authors who have a knack for expressing an idea in a better way than I ever could.

In an open letter to the NY Times, Gamar Sherif has pointed out some of the major faults in the current rage of teacher-bashing.  Sherif is a classroom teacher at Chris Lehmann’s Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and a member of the Teacher Leaders Network–both of which lend a large amount of credibility to what he has to say.

Sherif has put into words the thoughts of so many teachers who grow frustrated at the focus of policy-makers on replacing the very small number of teachers who are not capable of success.  He asks,

“Yet Secretary Duncan estimates that 10% of California’s teachers don’t belong in the classroom. Dan Goldhaber, a research professor with the Center on Reinventing Public Education, estimates that nationally, the number of unqualified teachers is closer to 7%.  So what are we doing for the other 90-93%?”

What, indeed?!?  He points out that empowering teachers through positive working environments and ensuring that students are ready for school are two powerful ways to make teachers more effective.  I couldn’t agree more.

It is difficult to ignore the role that students’ out-of-school lives play in their academic achievement.  In “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns“, authors Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson make the point out that research supports the importance of “extra talk” and “language dancing” by parents with their young children.  This type of interaction by parents has a HUGE effect on student achievement later in life.  And, more importantly, it happens before a child enters school and has a chance to benefit from the expertise of a professional teacher.

Thanks, Gamar, for making this point so clear.

photo credit: moon_child via photo pin cc


Teaching and STEM [TWITA]

I’ve had a chance lately to catch up on some of my reading, and I discovered that two of my favorite authors have posted about topics that are near and dear to my heart.  I decided it was time for another edition of TWITA: That’s What I’m Talking About.

Teaching as a Human Trait

A few years ago, I wrote about the recent scientific evidence that teaching might be one of the characteristics that makes humans unique.  It’s clear that other species learn from one another, but the active teaching of novices by those with more experience appears to be something that only humans do.

Well, Carl Zimmer, the very best science writer in all the world right now, wrote a review of some new data that expands on this idea.  I highly recommend it, as it includes some great examples of how difficult it is to define “teaching”.

STEAM is too Hot

Lately, I’ve felt that the endless push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is misguided.  As a science teacher, I enjoy the extra attention (and funding) that has been directed at my discipline, but I don’t think that it will result in the kind of changes that we need.  Tim Stahmer, who blogs at Assorted Stuff, agrees and his short explanation makes it really easy to understand why.


I am working on some more meaty stuff, so check back soon.  But, in the meantime, enjoy these like-minded bits of reading.


Advice for New Teachers [TWITA]

image from Flickr user brennan.v

I am preparing a couple longer posts to make up for my lack of writing here but, in the meantime, the incredibly awesome Dina Strasser has published some of her own words that do a better job than I ever could.  I’m including a quote here as part of my series “That’s What I’m Talking About”.

In a recent article for Ed Week, Strasser responds to a pre-service teacher who is concerned about committing to such a stressful career.  Dina provides some FANTASTIC advice, including this little gem about finding those fellow teachers who will support you:

“Note the names of the cool, respectful, interesting teachers your students mention, and forsake your buddies to sit with those teachers during faculty meetings. Ask for book recommendations from people who are constantly apologizing for their geekiness (this is an excellent sign that they would make good teaching friends). Write embarrassingly honest posts on your teaching blog and solicit comments on them. Attend professional conferences on unpaid time, collecting the e-mail addresses of dedicated teachers like rare coins, and then actually e-mailing these people—even if they don’t e-mail you first.

When you find your teaching friends, ‘grapple them to your soul with hoops of steel,’ as Shakespeare wrote. Do not worry about what you look like while you’re doing it. Kindred spirits will understand.”

I realize now that this is exactly what I did over the past few years when I was lucky enough to discover these types of “teaching friends”.  More than any other factor, these people are the reason that I am still a classroom teacher after ten years.  I hope that they know the impact that they have had, and that I’ve returned the favor by being a teaching friend to others.

Does this resonate with anyone else?

Science, Technology

That’s What I’m Talking About: Creationism

The last few weeks have been a flurry of activity related to my “day job” and the many responsibilities that I have (voluntarily) taken on there.  I’ve spent a lot of mental time trying to figure out how to maintain the conversation here that I value so much personally and professionally, while slogging through the day-to-day joys and challenges of being a middle school teacher.

An idea that I’ve come up with is a new type of post called That’s What I’m Talking About or TWITA, for short.  I plan to use this type of writing from time to time to share the work of other authors that jives so well with my thinking that I wish I wrote it.  In each case, I’ll add some commentary of my own and try to start up some interesting conversations here.

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