Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A very popular New York Times article this week is about people trying to find a way to build a better teacher. The entire article is very much worth a read. One passage in the article caught the Korean's eyes:
When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.
Building a Better Teacher (New York Times)

The Korean does not know if his reaction is based on the fact that he is a Korean, or that he is a son of two very successful teachers. At any rate, the Korean's reaction was: People don't know this?

The Korean volunteers frequently at a NYC public school, and he has always been one of the most effective volunteers in getting a classroom full of high school students under control and follow his directions. The manner in which the Korean does that has always been very obvious to the Korean - strong voice, squared shoulders, locked hips, determined glare. It is how you are supposed to project authority. It is, to the Korean, as natural as breathing. Did the Korean somehow come to pick up a skill that a majority of people do not?


  1. In a word, yes. It was weird reading the article, though - I feel as if I'm already doing quite a few of the things he mentions - without ever having thought about it or consciously made the effort to do something... Maybe I'll look into that MKT test of his...

  2. President Kim Jong Il would make a good teacher

  3. The problem is that there are lots and lots of 'forced' teachers these days. In that economic decline in the USA and Europe have meant there has been an influx of 'teachers' all over the place.

    People who are most certainly not qualified to do such a job in personality terms. But do it as they need the money, i.e. it is better to be earning 2 million won and have accomodation paid for than earn nothing right?.

    This has probably caused a decline in both wages and the general quality of the teachers.

  4. I don't know if it's because I'm an American, or if it's because I only had one parent that was a successful teacher... but I'll admit I have a lot to learn and look forward to reading more from Mr. Lemov.

  5. Nice article. I imagine that there are, indeed, born teachers.

    Someone once wrote, however, and I can't remember who it was, that being a teacher was like learning a second time. It's not innate, by any means.

    There has to be a desire to improve, an understanding that it takes time, and a resiliency needed to keep at the grind.

    In the EFL classroom, especially, directness and specificity are rewarded.

  6. No, many people don't know how to look authoritative and have never been taught it. Say you're a teacher straight out of school from a more "traditional" family. Well, in the first 18 years of your life, your parents wanted your obedience, and in the next 4 years of your life, you learned you needed to listen to your college teachers and do the work they required. Neither your parents or your teachers taught you how to be assertive- after all, it makes their lives easier when you respond to conflict by doing whatever is it they want you to do. When are you going to learn how to act like an authority?

    Personally, I think schools should do more oral presentation training, which teaches the same lessons on how to present yourself to an audience as this teacher-specific training and is applicable to many other careers as well.

  7. Wanda, doesn't it work the other way around? All his life in his traditional family, the Korean saw people around him (parents, teachers) being assertive and projecting authority so he picked up how to do it once in their position. In contrast, too many Americans (not all, not even the majority, but still too many) are coddled and "respected", so they often do not know how to project authority.

    That's just a wild theory that really has no firm basis, but that was the Korean's initial reaction.

  8. At first glance, I'm reminded of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_bvT-DGcWw ;)

    I find teaching and acting have a lot in common. Some of the qualities that make a classically trained stage actor great work well in the classroom (stillness and strong voice/breath control). Of course, no one commands the stage better than the British. Teachers could learn much from these ultimate thespians.

    The Socratic method of teaching is also effective and mirrors the "cold calling" mentioned in the article.

  9. Video of "The Korean's" class? haha.

  10. Kimberly's second video wins

  11. Yeah, the second video cracks me up. Korean Middle Schoolers and Teachers alike all hated the last English teacher that I replaced. They said he was too strict.

    I certainly agree with the principles in the article, but as far as becoming a stone-cold instructor, I'm not sure how well students would respond to that ...

    I certainly never did when I was in school. It usually caused me to, much like the girl's in the video, find ways to make fun of the teacher behind their backs or screw things up for his/her class whenever possible.

  12. @The Korean: I would say that it takes practice to master a skill, even if you see it being modeled.

    It is also helpful to know which aspects of that skill are essential. For example, you can also "project authority" onto a classroom by going apesh*t and screaming at everyone for an hour. (I had several elementary school teachers who would do that, and honestly that was my mother's style with me too, with hitting.) This method is effective in acute control of a classroom but does not promote learning or even discipline in the long run. Without guidance, a student teacher would either model or entirely reject this style of teaching, without realizing that you can take the elements that are commanding the class's attention (doing only one thing at a time, etc.) and getting rid of the elements that don't work.

  13. I'm surprised you're not a teacher yourself, AAK, since both your parents were. That's very generous of you to donate some of your time in the NYC classrooms. Thanks for the article about teaching - it's interesting. I do think some people just have a gift for teaching, but when they work hard at developing it then it just makes them all the better. There has to be that interest and desire to do well or the kids just know. The teachers that I learned the most from did command my respect and used their authority in the best way.

  14. Kimberly,

    The Korean loved the video. But it was clearly staged, with the teacher being in on the whole thing.


    A teacher does not have to be loved outside the classroom; she just has to be respected inside it.


    For example, you can also "project authority" onto a classroom by going apesh*t and screaming at everyone for an hour. (I had several elementary school teachers who would do that, and honestly that was my mother's style with me too, with hitting.) This method is effective in acute control of a classroom but does not promote learning or even discipline in the long run.

    Correct. So the Korean would think that going apeshit is not the right way of projecting authority. In fact, it does not even project authority in the long run, because (a) one cannot continuously go apeshit, and (b) once you go nuclear like that from the very beginning, you can't have escalated threats when the situation becomes more serious.


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