Afterthoughts on Elizabeth Green EconTalk episode
By Russ Roberts
I’ve done a lot of interviews on education at EconTalk and there’s always more to learn. There were two moments that really stuck with me from this conversation with Elizabeth Green about her book, Building a Better Teacher.
One is the importance of coaching. Having taught for 30 years, I did spend some time thinking about how to do my job better. But nobody coached me. As some of you know, my wife is a math teacher and the head of the math department in her school. She has been deeply influenced by Doug Lemov and has come to believe that you can become a better teacher and that coaching makes a difference. I think it’s huge at the K-12 level, especially for new teachers. The analogy that I mentioned in the conversation has stuck with me–teaching is a craft and not unlike others crafts such as hitting a baseball. Professional baseball players who are extraordinary at what they do still have coaches who help keep them in a groove. Probably a good idea for teachers.
In the response to the Extra for this episode, Dan Winters–a teacher and an administrator–mentions the idea of a Kickstarter to help train teachers. Amy Willis points out the challenge of certification–how would people know that the teachers had learned something? I think equally challenging is the incentive problem. I think Doug Lemov could start a national teacher training program or a program that trained coaches to go into schools to help teachers. The problem is that too few public schools have an incentive to send their teachers to such schools or to hire coaches.
The importance of coaching and the difficulties of teaching well help remind me that wanting to be good at something isn’t enough if you don’t know how to get better. Incentivizing teachers is very important but even if they want to do better, I fear they often do not know how to get there from here. I do believe in a truly private system, ways of getting better would come more naturally and be part of the entire process.
The other point I got out of this episode was the point about power. It’s hard for teachers to remember that they have a lot of power over students. Adolescents particularly dislike being told what to do. The grading process and that feeling of having someone with power over you can really disrupt the classroom and the learning process. That’s what I meant when I said that it’s not about you, the teacher. It’s about them, the students. When student believe that the teacher wants them to learn as opposed to believing that the teacher wants to control them or punish them with a bad grade, it changes everything.
Coming Monday, Thomas Piketty talking about inequality and his book, Capital in the 21st Century. It gets lively. Here is a sneak preview: