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Education Corner-March, 2010

 A number of you had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Orah Zohar as part of your Hebrew University or Hebrew College degree. Those who did, will no doubt remember the story of Miss A (Pedersen, et al. A New Perspective on the Effects of First Grade Teachers on Children’s Subsequent Adult Status, Harvard Educational Review, vol. 48, February 1978, pp. 1-31) , a first-grade teacher whose impact on her students was amazing. I remember - when using the data in my own teaching - that some of you questioned the findings and the “outdated” research.
I felt vindicated when reading the recent New York Times article, “Building a Better Teacher” which I highly recommend to all of you. In short,
the article stressed two points:
     1. Teachers make a difference
     2. There are identifiable traits that can be learned that make teachers more effective.

The article reports that “Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only
half a year of material each year.” That finding is mind-boggling and one that we need to understand better.
And what makes a great teacher? Another “old study” by David Berliner,
et al (The California Beginning Teacher Study, Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 27:1 pp. 24-30, Spring '76) identified those skills which can be learned that occurred most frequently in the classrooms
of effective teachers and those that should be eliminated that occurred most often in the classrooms of least effective teachers. The recent New York Times article (Building a Better Teacher) features the approach of Doug Lemov (and mentions his new book Teach Like a Champion, due out next month). Like Berliner, Lemov points to norms and routines/deliberate techniques that characterize good teaching. The article also talks about the findings of Deborah Bell, an assistant professor of education at Michigan State. Bell found that what teachers know matters,
and what they know about how to teach a particular subject is even more critical. (For example, see Barry Holtz’s book: Textual Knowledge: Teaching the Bible in Theory and in Practice, JTSA, 2003.)

I remember being in Mador, a counselor training program at Ramah in the Poconos in the summer of 1966. Rabbi David Mogilner, who was the director, taught our pedagogy class. On the first day he stated that 10% of us probably didn’t need the class; we’d be great educators regardless. For another 10%, nothing would help. The other 80% could be a lot better because of what we’d learn with him. I don’t know where he got those statistics, but the premise was correct that most people can learn to be better teachers. The article states that “no professional feels completely prepared on her first day of work, but while a new lawyer might work under the tutelage of a seasoned partner, a first-year teacher usually takes charge of her classroom from the very first day.” Those of you who have been fortunate enough to have real mentors who observe your classrooms, who have access to ongoing and high-level professional development in your schools/communities, who have taken advantage of the help our alumni support program offers (pairing with veteran alumni, summer curriculum workshop, follow-up to school visits, etc.) realize that to become a great teacher, one needs to grow - and it is difficult to do that alone. Alone you see your classroom through the eyes of a novice teacher and you miss a great deal. The real growth in teaching comes from interacting with others.

Do read the New York Times article - it gives some great examples of what good teaching is all about. For those who want to read more, you
can go back to the original articles by Pederson and Berliner and await Lemov’s new book. But above all, do continue to take every opportunity
to learn from teachers, colleagues and students, on the road to becoming a “better teacher”.