Amazon Exclusive: Q&A with Author Doug Lemov
1. 'Great teachers are born, not made' You obviously disagree with this statement please tell us why.
A few teachers may be born with an intuitive gift for teaching but I when I watch a great teacher I see mostly hard work and attention to detail. So believe that great teachers can be made. Every teacher can improve by using proven, concrete techniques in the classroom. This question brings to mind two amazing teachers I know Julie Jackson and Colleen Driggs. Julie and Colleen are always doing things like reviewing their lesson plans on the way to work and talking with peers about how to improve their craft. It’s exciting to me that what we may attribute to natural talent is actually hard work. You can choose to work hard and improve and become exactly the teacher you want to be.
2. What’s the best way for a teacher to start the year with a new class?
It’s important to build systems and routines, as I describe in chapter six, 'Setting and Maintaining High Behavioral Expectations' in Teach Like a Champion. The first day of school should be teaching students the right way to do things and practicing this over and over. Learning and practicing these systems and routines allows a teacher and her students to rely on this foundation for the rest of the year.
I once witnessed Dave Levin (who is a founder of KIPP schools and a fantastic teacher) begin a teacher training workshop in an interesting way. Dave started by handing a mirror to every teacher in the room. He said, 'Your classroom is a mirror. It looks however you make it look. The first step is to believe that your classroom mirrors your decisions. You can control it.' That’s the first step. To accept that as a teacher you decide who you want to be and how you want to create your classroom culture. You own it. Some people do it so you can do it. And that’s a good thing.
3. If you could just change one thing in our nation’s schools, what would you change?
It’s important that we do everything possible to support teachers so that they love their work and can be successful in the classroom. In my opinion, teachers should get paid the same as professional athletes or film stars.
4. This book is largely based on your experience with the group of charter schools you help lead on the east coast, called Uncommon Schools. Please tell us more about Uncommon Schools.
Uncommon Schools is a group of schools that serve low-income populations in urban centers in New York and New Jersey. Across our 16 schools 98 percent of our students scored proficient in math and just below 90 percent in English. This means that our schools usually outperform more privileged suburban districts.
We’ve been using the 49 techniques in my book for 5 years, with our teachers constantly refining and adding to them. Our experience has proven not only that that these techniques work and they can work in every school and in every classroom but that great teachers make them better and more sophisticated over time. And best of all the teachers who practice using them find themselves in control of a happy, rigorous classroom that reflects the motivations that brought them to teaching in the first place. Successful teachers are happy teachers.