On my way up to Rochester a few weeks ago for the New York Social Studies Conference, I was flipping through the seat-back Amtrak magazine and noticed it was all about education. What a delight, I thought. I'm going to a conference on teaching, and here I can read about education all the way up state!
I was particularly interested to discover that a super teacher named Doug Lemov (author of Teach Like a Champion) has in fact closed the achievement gap at Rochester Prep Charter School. Ignoring the linguistic limitations of the use of "closed" in this context (which could have either meant eliminated or diminished - it was left unclear), I was interested to read about how Lemov accomplished whatever it was he accompanied (either a miracle if closed meant eliminated, or an increase in minority test scores if closed meant diminished).
Apparently Lemov's key to success (which the NY Times did quite a lengthy piece on last year) is training teachers to place monumental importance on the minutia of their daily routines.
Training teachers to spend hours agonizing over how the first fifteen minutes of class should run isn't purely Lemovian, though. The minutia of classroom script seem to be about all that matter in a teacher's rating in many urban schools.
Here's a nice example.
Now, it's not that I think having solid classroom management routines isn't important. But rare is the administrator who emphasizes the importance of content knowledge to the new teacher, or the rationale for being skilled at long-term planning and assessment. In today's teaching climate (at least in hard-to-staff underprivileged schools), what seems to matter most is what you do on a second-by-second basis when the kids are in front of you - i.e. how you control them.
I remember beginning to question this line of thought when it was implied that I was single-handedly responsible for the nation's achievement gap because I failed to write my objective with SMART language in the administrator allocated corner of my white board. If you're unfamiliar with the way those asinine conversations go, watch the clip below.
Patrick E. Finn writes a useful antidote to those who would analogize effective classroom management with a fascist dictatorship in Literacy with an Attitude.
Using the Hubble Telescope to analyze how teachers manage their classrooms on a second-by-second basis (which I'm afraid is happening more and more in schools across the country) is a useful way to weigh us down with pointless conversations, but it will do very little to advance powerful learning experiences.
I, too, used to think worrying about what happened minute by minute in the classroom was what would make me excellent. But I've since learned that a well-functioning classroom with a teacher who lacks content knowledge and long-term planning can be just as worthless a learning experience as one in which kids are throwing paper and hanging out on the window sills.
Perhaps this high-functioning babysitting is what substitutes for effective instruction when you live in a society where the majority of those with strong backgrounds in the content are drawn into alternative professions. Perhaps our educational leadership is being infiltrated by edudrone opportunists who find it easier to parrot talking points about effective management than actually gain the experience necessary to acquire the content knowledge and planning skills necessary to guide teachers toward effective instruction. Or maybe this is just an example of how public schools in a society that doesn't really believe in public education will inevitably be trapped (to one degree or another) in the role of opressor rather than liberator.
However it works out, I, for one, prefer to teach against the grain.