A Clear, Calm Look At Improving Classroom Instruction

What a pleasure listening to American RadioWorks’ new hour-long education documentary, Teaching Teachers, which asks us all to step back from all the debates surrounding and look at what makes good teachers and where they’re making them.

Some of the things I learned or was reminded about include that what makes good teaching hard is that you have to put yourself in the mindset of the students, not in your own way of doing things — and that the only way to find out how students are thinking about what they’re learning is to elicit their process rather than guessing or interjecting. Other key concepts: picking which teachers mentor trainees is important, simulations and clinical experience might have been under-emphasized compared to academic study and paper-writing in teacher prep programs.

How fascinating and strange that an idea developed in the US has spread widely — in Japan — and is only now being adopted in schools in the US (A different approach to teacher learning). And how interesting to have some teachers talk about how lonely some teachers feel in classrooms and schools where teaching is behind closed doors and failures aren’t discussed among teachers. 

Some education insiders will have heard this before, or know the material ahead of time. The segments aren’t as vivid or dramatic as a This American Life segment, say, and there might be perhaps too much of Hanford and show host Stephen Smith talking and explaining things for my liking.  

But it’s full of interesting ideas and characters talking about what works and what doesn’t in teacher preparation and support. And the lack of conflict and clamor is part of the appeal, frankly. Not every piece of education journalism needs to be about the debate — and that the writing and editing of education journalism doesn’t need to make ridiculous claims about conclusiveness or comprehensiveness in order to be worth listening to.

Longtime educationistas may recall Hanford’s 2008 piece on testing (Put to the Test), or her 2014 documentary on teachers learning the Common Core (Greater Expectations), which included some amazing footage of teachers reflecting on how the new academic content was changing their own expectations of students. I’m hoping to talk to her later today and will report back on what she learned and what folks are saying in response to the piece. 

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.