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Thinking about teaching

March 6, 2010

On today’s New York Times’ site is an article “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green that describes the work of Doug Lemov in trying to identify the qualities of good teachers and how teachers can be trained to be better teachers. In the article, the schools discussed are mainly elementary and middle schools. Two things struck me about the article: the importance of classroom management skills and the ability of teachers to know how to teach their subject matter.  Much time is spent in the article describing several techniques teachers use to keep control of classes after the writer has shown how colleges of education have downplayed this. How many of us have had to learn these skills by trial and error?  As the article progressed, I saw many techniques that I have used such as the cold call where the teacher calls on any student to answer the question.  The second idea that struck me was in the discussion of teaching math and what the teachers need to know about math, basically math teacher knowledge.  This knowledge is not only of math, but also of how math may be understood differently by the students and misunderstood.  In other words, the importance to trying to understand how the student thinks. 

I sometimes think I have a little grasp of how some students think, but with students from so many different language backgrounds, I realize I don’t stand a chance of mastering that.  Still I think I should do a better job and spend more time with contrastive analysis types of studies. 

My students did not do well on the reading midterm I was so worried about.  Neither did the students of my colleague teaching the other ESL reading section even though she teaches this course regularly.  I talked to a teacher who teaches a college prep class, and her students did better, but in her description of teaching her students, it was clear to me that she teaches test taking skills as much as she teaches reading.  When I asked my students what they needed, test taking strategies came out as one need. 

Finally, I was reading the blog Bionic Teaching in which the Tom wrote: “I’ll have to think some more about how to do all of this better. It’s amazing how many times you can teach a class and still feel like a complete newcomer.”  I find this to be one of the truest things about teaching I have seen.

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