Book Read: Building a Better Teacher

I thought I knew the history of American education. After all, I had studied John Dewey in school, and isn’t he the source of all things education? Guess not, according to Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green. Turns out, there was a lot of misguided efforts to create a teacher education program, and a lot of failed initiatives to reform education once there was a teacher education program. It’s an interesting read, as it filled in some knowledge holes for me about math pedagogy, charter schools, and the rise in quality of Japanese education.

A few segments that stood out:

“Changing the way you taught was a major undertaking. A teacher had to revise everything from the kinds of questions she asked to her very understanding of the subject she was teaching.” It’s complex work. It’s easier to do a “redesign, but not an overhaul. The same old wine in new bottles… carry out the activities without rebuilding core beliefs.”

While watching an American videotaped lesson, a Japanese researcher was perplexed by a P.A. announcement that came on during the lesson:
“Were we implying that it was normal to interrupt a lesson? How could that ever happen? Such interruptions would never happen in Japan because they would ruin the flow of the lesson.” Going through all the videos the research team had, it was discovered that 31% of American lessons contained an interruption, while zero of the Japanese lessons did.

In Japan, no teacher worked alone. “To solve the puzzles that teaching posed, teachers needed the push and pull of other people’s opinions.” This is the power of jugyokenkyu, which is a Japanese lesson study used to hone their craft.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who is currently working on school reform, as it puts names and personalities and historical context around some of the practices we engage in today. In doing so, it reminded me why change doesn’t happen overnight, and how important culture and communication are to any sustainable movement.

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