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C'est la Z

What Is Good Teaching

I had a conversation with my principal during my last year at Stuy. She said "whenever the superintendent or high level education people come and ask to see our best teachers I can never bring them to Jim's class." Everyone knows that Jim is the best. I describe him as "the teacher I aspire to be." What's the problem? The problem is that Jim didn't teach the way the powers that be wanted him to teach. He didn't do discovery learning, kids didn't work in groups, there's typically nothing that you could check off on the "best way to teach" list. Jim's an old school teacher. Teacher dominant. He leads the discussion, asks questions, circulates while the kids work on problems etc. Why does it work? A combination of things. He know his math, charisma, force of personality, empathy, and a lot of other factors. One could dismiss it as saying "it's Stuy, it's easy" but he was the best at a high needs school before he was the best at Stuy.

I was thinking about this for a few reasons. One is I watched this video by Felienne Hermans. It's a good video, many good points. I particularly like when she talked about talking to a room of teachers about a new "discovery" about learning only to find that teachers have known it for decades. Basically, Felienne pushes back on the discovery learning and let them play that's dominated the CS Education space. She talks about her success with direct instruction. Another is that we're starting to see more acceptance and voices for direct instruction in the CS Ed space as a whole.

Personally, I think this is a good thing, after all, it's more my style. On the other hand, I don't want the pendulum to swing too far. I was talking to a history teacher at Stuy when they brought in the Danielson nonsense Framework. She's a good teacher but she was sheepish about Danielson. She said that Danielson worked for her - it aligned with the way she taught and made her seem like the absolute best. She was and is an excellent teacher but we all have holes in our game. She didn't want to be held up as an exemplar of great teaching where she knew that chances are there will be a successor to Danielson and chances are something else will be in vogue and she won't be so officially terrific anymore.

Right now, direct instruction is coming back. Who knows if it will become the darling of the policy makers but regardless, a teaching style or technique's value can't be determined without considering other factors. The teacher's personal style, the students, the resources, class time, and much more.

So, what is a teacher to do? Add all the tools to your toolbox. I'm not big on cooperative learning but I've peppered it in now and then. Sometimes, it's best to have the students discover things, something you've got to tell them. Sometimes they should work on things solo, sometimes in teams. I've taught classes that were all projects and classes that had limited projects. Acquire all the tools and use them as YOU think best. It's the teacher with the skin in the game. Not the policy makers, thought leaders, researchers, and influences. More importantly it's the teacher that knows their students best - where they are, what they need and how to do the best they can given the limited resources they have.

I'm obviously not excusing teachers who do one side lectures or who just phone it in but the majority of teachers work hard to do it right and should be given the freedom to do just that.

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