Teaching Like a Champion
It is a recurring complaint that teacher-training programs – both traditional and alternative route alike – emphasize pedagogical understanding and content mastery but underprepare teacher candidates for the day-to-day task of leading a classroom of students. In some ways, this is an unfair complaint – there is no classroom or clinical experience that can fully approximate the challenges of having your own students. However, it would be wrong to simply say that teachers have to learn by trial and error – it’s unfair to the teachers who feel ill-equipped, unfair to the students who deserve a competent and capable teacher, and ultimately poor policy that contributes to the teacher attrition problem.
Many diverse voices in education reform have contributed to the discussion of how to improve pre-service teachers’ preparation for instructional leadership. Brett and I recently had the opportunity to visit one such example at The New Teacher Project’s summer training institute in Philadelphia. Like most alternative route programs, TNTP requires its fellows to undergo an intensive five-week summer training program where they learn the basics of pedagogy, receive support in their content area, and practice what they learn in a student-teaching setting. I was excited for the opportunity to observe their new training curriculum, based on the book Teach Like a Champion (TLAC) by Doug Lemov.
I have a personal affinity for TLAC. During my first year as a teacher, I joined a book club with teachers from other Wilmington schools to discuss TLAC, which I found to be the most useful resource for improving my classroom management and increasing the standard to which I held my students. Lemov’s contention in TLAC is that very few people are “born” to be teachers; rather, highly effective teachers learn and apply tangible skills in their instruction. Lemov’s techniques, based on observations of high-performing teachers in low-performing schools, range from the basic (“stand still when you give instructions”) to far more complex strategies for increasing rigor, engagement, and achievement.
During the session I observed at TNTP, the teacher candidates were led in a discussion of three techniques in Lemov’s book: No Opt Out (video), Cold Call (video), and Name the Steps. During the lesson, the group reviewed the material in the book, viewed examples of the strategies in action, and then observed as a peer attempted to incorporate the techniques into a lesson she delivered earlier that morning. This was followed by group work time, where fellows had the chance to edit and then practice their lesson for the following day, receiving peer and staff feedback on how they are implementing Lemov’s techniques. At the conclusion of the week, teaching fellows were evaluated on teaching competencies (not factual recall or theoretical understanding) based on both real and sample lessons.
It is important that new teachers have an understanding of pedagogy and human development. Yet teacher training should leave teacher candidates with a full toolbox of classroom management techniques. There is incredible value in the immediacy and practicality of the new TNTP curriculum: trainees had the opportunity to learn something in the afternoon, practice it among peers in the evening, and implement it in their classroom the next morning. One book can’t revolutionize teacher preparation – nor should it. However, I do believe TLAC – and TNTP’s embrace of Lemov’s techniques – is a positive contribution to teacher preparation and will hopefully further the discussion of how best to impart the tools of teaching to new teachers.