Teacher Choice 2

Subj: Teacher Choice 2

Edupolitics has 2 tribes.  “Reformers” (example Arne Duncan).  “Anti-the-current-type-of-reform-ers.”

Of course many people, including myself, find ourselves “picking and choosing” issues and ideas from both tribes.

One such issue that cleaves is school culture.

There are educommenters and bloggers like John Thompson, Nancy Winterbottom, and Gary Rubinstein who, I think, describe themselves as in the anti-Duncan camp, but also believe school culture in high-poverty schools is a key front-line issue.  It needs to be addressed with much more vigor and energy.  (I’m sure they’ll comment if I’m mischaracterizing their views, and I’ll edit the blog post if needed).  John has a book draft describing discipline issues in his large high school in Oklahoma City; Gary published a book called “The Reluctant Disciplinarian,” where he wrote “Too many teachers struggle through their first year, expending vast quantities of energy trying to maintain classroom discipline—at the expense of teaching.”

Every “No Excuses” charter leader and teacher would agree.  We further would contend that this is a teacher choice issue.  Future teachers should be allowed to choose programs that tackle these issues honestly.  John has blogged that this issue represents a cross-the-aisle “bipartisan” opportunity for educators from both tribes; he’s just asked charters acknowledge similar but identical school populations (because of selection and de-selection), which I’ve done before on my own blog.

By contrast, there are several superintendents that are pro Arne Duncan’s view of reform, but don’t think of school culture as Job One.

Instead, they think of school culture merely as one of several other issues — curriculum, teacher recruiting and evaluation, using data, differentiated instruction, turnarounds, and so forth.  If you asked these superintendents to describe PRECISELY what a good classroom would look like in terms of decorum (what’s okay, what’s not okay), what consequences would happen when things went wrong, how the principal should support the teachers to achieve that — you’d hear crickets.

Similarly, there are some who “anti-current-reform” folks who not only do not prioritize school culture, but actively reject our version of it.  Some are policymakers, scholars, or suburban educators who don’t spend much time in high-poverty schools.  But many are skilled educators from tough inner-city schools, often identifying themselves as progressive.

These critics reject that young teachers in inner-city schools need extensive, explicit instruction on how to create a positive classroom climate; or that such training is useful but should not be a graduate school course; or that our particular approach is “militaristic.”  There is selective citing of training videos and manuals, etc, without context.  In fairness, “Reformers” do the same thing sometimes to their opponents, so perhaps this is just how things go on the civility front.


In the comments section, I’ll post the introduction to our classroom management guide for new teacher trainees.  If I can figure out how to upload our Chuck Norris photos and other silly stuff et al, I’ll add that.  It’s in draft form.  We’re hoping to get feedback this year and publish it next year.  So anything thoughts now would be helpful.

Is this a reasonable starting point for recent college graduates who, one year later, will begin work as full-time teachers?

While our program is narrow (only for charter and turnaround schools), I’d love to hear in particular from any veteran educators from inner-city schools…..

13 Replies to “Teacher Choice 2”

  1. Our Vision

    Why do we care so much about classroom management?

    It’s because of our Vision.

    The Vision is what we know you can do with a 56-minute class when you have the right tools. It’s the kind of education that every child deserves. It’s when a classroom is really a place of learning and discovery. It’s a dedicated teacher’s dream. And it contrasts sharply with what happens every day in most first-year teacher classrooms.

    The Vision includes more than just classroom management. To achieve it, you must also establish good routines for your classroom, develop strong relationships with parents and kids, plan an excellent curriculum, and execute your lessons skillfully.

    Although strong management is not enough to achieve the Vision, it is the first step toward it. Without management, there is no foundation to build the Vision upon. If the teacher doesn’t have control, then the students have control. Twenty students in one class means 20 different visions for one classroom. Chaos ensues. Nothing can get done in the class.

    To give you a clearer idea of what our Vision is, we’ve written up a comparison of what your classroom will look like versus other first-year-teacher classrooms. As you’re reading, ask yourself: which classroom would I rather have?

    The Vision:

    1. During Instruction…

    *All of Your Students:

    Write down on their paper anything that you write on the board.

    Answer questions when cold-called.

    Track you or other students while they’re speaking.

    Raise their hands to ask questions when no one else is speaking.

    Use gestures to indicate that they can’t see the board or can’t read the notes.

    *Many Students of Other First Year Teachers:

    Fail to take notes.

    Talk to neighbors.

    Pass notes.


    Refuse to answer questions when cold-called.

    Raise hands when others are talking.

    Fail to track the speaker.

    Call out answers or comments.

    Make off-task remarks.

    Work ahead of the class.

    2. During Independent Work times…

    *All of Your Students:

    Are silently bowed over their work, thinking hard.

    Work for the full time.

    Use gestures to show you they need something, so as not to interrupt the class.

    Respond to correction by getting back to work.

    *Many Students of Other First-Years:

    Talk to neighbors.

    Look around the room.

    Throw stuff.

    Raise their hands and refuse to work until you come over.

    Dig in their backpacks.

    Rush through the work, then sit idly.

    Get out of their seats.

    Respond to correction by arguing or sucking teeth.

    3. During Transitions…

    All of Your Students:

    Put their pencils down right away when the buzzer rings.

    Sit up straight and track you as you’re giving directions.

    Have their hands resting on their desks, which are neat.

    Follow directions quickly and fully.

    *Many Students of Other First Year Teachers:

    Continue writing after the buzzer rings.

    Call out while the teacher is talking.

    Continue writing, track, dig in backpacks, shuffle papers, open and close binders, raise their hands, and get out of their seats while the teacher is giving directions.

    Follow directions slowly or only partly.

    4. So in the end…

    *Your Students:

    Make more than one year of growth in your subject area.

    Have better academic and social habits than they had before you were their teacher.

    Feel more successful and invested in school.

    All Material Copyright 2012 Match Education

  2. This is not personal Michael, I had never heard of you or Match until your recent posts.

    Went to the Match Education homepage. Then, went to About Us. Who writes your copy? Seriously. I’m just not captivated by smugness and bravado.

    You’re just like every other “non-profit” do-gooder reformer who claims to know the secret and have THE VISION. Why not just enroll the children you presume to serve in a Military Academy because that’s all your Vision is–behavior modification. I note that at the Match Charter Public High School the attendance is cut by almost half by 12th grade–does this worry you and does it affect how the public should perceive your graduation rate? 100% of your students take AP tests yet only 13% pass–is this a concern?

    Oh, and you have a typo on your Export page.

  3. Here, even in the face of an open invitation for constructive feedback, we have a regular eduwonk comment stalker spewing vitriol. Actually, your comment is personal – and self-righteous, delusional, and shameful.

  4. again with the hate Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 8:27 pm
    Here, even in the face of an open invitation for constructive feedback, we have a regular eduwonk comment stalker spewing vitriol. Actually, your comment is personal – and self-righteous, delusional, and shameful.

    Sounds like projection (or teen spirit) from again with the hate.

  5. Dear Concern Troll, I provided feedback. That you don’t care for it is your business. Allow me to repeat my considered questions: Why do almost half of Match High School students not complete? Why do all students take AP classes but only 13% pass?

    The Match model does as well as it does because there is an ed school (of sorts) attached to it and there are willing, young, energetic college kids to help with the two hours of tutoring that ends four out of five days of the school week. It is unfair at best and disingenuous at worst for any charter school proponent to insist they have a better model than public schools when there is no way public schools can have access to the financial and human resources needed for a Match experience.

    “Twenty students in one class means 20 different visions for one classroom.” Only 20?

  6. I agree with the sentiment behind jeffreymiller’s last sentence.
    “Twenty students in one class means 20 different visions for one classroom.” Only 20?

    But that tips off the point where I agree more with Mike than most people in my camp. The progressive inclination is differientiated instruction, (and the disruptive innovators have adopted that also.) But what about Paul Tough’s example of an inner city class of 30 with 8 to 10 traumatized so that their cognitive functions are changed? I maintain that teacher-centric instruction is often the only viable approach, but if you have another way, that’s cool.

    But, superintendents rarely have a clue about instruction.

    The No Excuses approach didn’t fit my personality, but I respect it and support it. My approach to class cultuure started with a bell-to-bell mentality. By insisting that students work smart without wasting time, a message of respect was sent. It showed respect for the material, the school, and the students themselves, and their quest to learn for mastery.

    I was cautiously optimistic about Duncan for a long time. Then, I figured he was just doing the bidding of the Gates machine. Now, I’m just disappointed in him. Now, its fair to say I’m anti-Duncan. (and I think its fair to say I’m anti the current school of reform)

    School Culture as Job One is a great way of putting it. It would have headed off the hubris of “output” based accountability. It would have made us responsible for higher principles, and got us to the crucial value of respect. And it would have been smarter to continue to hold people responsible for their own behavior and what they can control rather than verging into social engineering, as the current reformers have done.

    So, I think we could have a few mandatory shared values/Visions. Without a Vision, the people perish. But a top down command and control vision (like so many superitendents want,) is a dystopia. We are shooling for life in a constitutional democracy. We need a vision where the individual (educator as well as student) autonomy is respected, as we share some community/team values.

    I do think, however, that traditional fishing trips for policy wonks, students, and teachers should be banned. In order to get an NCLB waiver, “Okie Noodling” should be mandated.

  7. So, Mike, this is Ed, stalking you on Andy’s blog rather than your own one. I’m sort of in John Thompson’s camp. I have a lot of respect for the “No Excuses” crowd and your ability to execute your vision of education, based on the track record of KIPP, Uncommon, MATCH, etc., on the conventional measures of achievement. I think, however, there are many different types of productive classroom cultures–some are rigid and rule based; others are a bit more fluid but also focused and involve very little student off-task behavior. My reservations about the No Excuses model fall into 2 areas. (1) I find it too doctrinaire; (2) I think it may promote too much student dependence on teachers and use pedagogical models that are limited in their upside. I will be the first to say that well-done teacher-centered teaching is often more effective than poorly done constructivist teaching. Especially in schools that do a good job of building school cultures that motivate high student effort. But well-done constructivist teaching–and it’s really hard to do–trumps teacher centered methods. It places much higher cognitive demand on students and develops the higher order skills and independent thinking that are truly important for college and career success. Many real life problems are ambiguous and not well defined, and the model of education of breaking things down and spoon feeding kids has some inherent limitations, especially in the changing economy. The AP data cited above–I don’t know if it is accurate–may point to some of these limitations. It’ll be interesting to see how things change once the Common Core phases in. If the new assessments truly aim at deeper understanding and more open ended questions, will No Excuses schools have the same results? Perhaps, but I’ll be curious. Then again, my guess is the assessments will turn out to not be that different. I do also think that some progressive educators are just put off by what they see as a “militarist” approach to student behavior, which reminds them of Jean Anyon’s work on how schools contribute to the stratification of society. Working class kids are taught to comply and to view others as the authorities about knowledge, while upper middle class student are taught to think critically, value their own expertise, challenge expert arguments, and be creative. Having visited a couple of No Excuses schools, I do think that they are often caricatured and some are less rigid and doctrinaire than commonly painted (though most are still highly structured). But I think many need to think more critically about both the short term and long term consequences of the models they have adopted.

  8. Back again. I do think that many “progressive” educators fail to think enough about classroom management and how to build productive classroom cultures. Many are too lax. I think both sides can learn from each other. I think No Excuses schools could think more deeply about how to place more cognitive demand on students–more of the work of defining and making sense of problems and tasks–and in this they have much to learn from progressive educators. The key is to figure out how to incorporate these practices within the structures they have developed. Progressive educators could learn a lot from studying No Excuses Schools’ laser-like focus on planning, implementation, and use of data. Well done constructive lessons have to be extremely tightly planned as well. It’s harder to pull off, and teachers need to anticipate where students might take the discussion and task, and be prepared to respond. Progressive teacher educators have to do more to prepare trainees in classroom management.

  9. So you ask, is this a reasonable starting point? I taught in inner-city Chicago for 3 years and now teach in a lower mniddle class suburb where 7 different languages are spoken. 100% of all my 5 years of teaching were to at-risk kids…you said you’d like some constructive criticism…so here I go…

    I feel like the two situations you draw are overwhelming for any starting teacher. The first classroom you describe is what everyone fears and the second classroom you define is probably out of reach for many, if not all, teachers. I’ve visited several classrooms of award winning teachers and rarely are 100% of all students engaged in the activity you describe in the second scenario. Temper it, a bit, so as not to scare the snot out of starting teachers, maybe?

    That was my constructive half. Here’s my personal criticism which is not necessarily so constructive.

    Every teacher needs classroom management. It’s typically what most teachers say on their 3 x 5 cards during the first day of school planning.

    Inner-city teachers need a lot more than classroom management help their first year of teaching. It almost seems silly to me to commit resources to something that is best learned via on the job training, supervision, and lots of mentor support.

    I consider myself a pretty tough guy. I was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom before I became a teacher. Teaching in the city was the toughest job I’ve ever had and tore my heart out. What’s the turnover rate of Charter school teachers? New inner city school teachers need senior teacher support, mentorship, a shoulder to cry on, and constant reinforcement that they are doing the right thing. New teachers do not need a method du jour, they need the firm, gentle hand of a wise mentor.

    Check out Inner City Teaching Corps


    They got it dialed in.

    While you will do some good–I wish you luck–I think new Inner City teachers require mentor support, not a method du jour.

  10. I thought Ed’s posts above were excellent. It’s a lot of what we are trying to do at Brooke Charter Schools (www.ebrooke.org) – namely students doing more of the intellectual heavy lifting within the general context of a No Excuses charter school. Lots of class discussion, more constructivist style lessons blended with many of the hallmarks of No Excuses culture.

  11. I agree with John and Ed. But more importantly, the whole setup presents a dichotomy that’s utter nonsense.

    I went to a very good ed school, and they don’t teach an Anything Goes method of classroom management. Rather, they teach us to work with the class to set up rules for the classroom. “But what if the kids don’t come up with rules you think will work?” many asked. “Well, you just encourage and suggest until they do.” So you can have anything you want, kids, so long as you have chicken.

    Of course, this method doesn’t work at all if kids decide to disobey.

    Oh, wait. Your method doesn’t, either.

    I can’t tell you the number of No Excuses teachers I’ve seen go absolutely beserk when their kids flatly refuse to obey. They giggle at the idiot giving them demerits. They laugh at the teacher’s insistence that they take notes. They never bring notebooks or pencils, they make hand gestures, sure, but not the ones you’re thinking of, and they ignore your admonitions to hush. Did I say they giggle at the idiot who thinks demerits are helpful?

    All of these idealistic methods are dependent on student and parent buy-in.

    What’s that you say? That yes, this is true, which is why every teacher needs to use the same method, why the school culture blah blah blah you may as well copy and paste because I stopped listening and began thinking oh christ shoot me now.

    Because guess what? The idealistic differentiated student-centered classroom works just great when you have parent and student buy-in.

    No, really. Go to any of the progressive charters and you see Communist Russia instead of North Korea. The kids are engaged in their differentiated instruction, they work together, they have the Facilitator and Resource Manager roles down pat, they know how to fake it just like your kids do.

    And this method, of classroom centered instruction, works just as well as the extreme, teacher-centered form of militarist Hi, kids, you’re in North Korea nonsense that you propose.

    When you have buy-in.

    But when you don’t have buy-in, none of it matters. And don’t start telling me about how you have to get buyin, because YOU WILL NEVER GET BUY-IN for huge, huge number of kids.

    All you and the progressives are doing is getting the kids or parents who are willing to commit to either North Korea where only Our Leader matters or Communist Russia where you can vote for anyone as long as its Candidate A. And frankly, most inner city parents who pick charters could give a crap about whether they have North Korea or Russia because they think all the white folks preaching at them are full of it. All they want is safety, and they’re willing to sell their soul and pretend to believe your crap because they know their kids are safer at charter schools because the kids with the guns and the dope are less likely to even think of going to these schools, and would be kicked out if they do. This preference for safety is also why crap charters with horrible results get every bit as much buy-in from the parents as your presumably superior test scores do, because they don’t care about anything except safe.

    So your entire comparison is nonsense; your teachers look as stupid as the idealistic progressive schools do in any school that can’t allow you to kick out the kids who steadfastly, determinedly refuse to do anything other than treat school as the time when they see all their friends. Because if these schools use your methods, they will get written up in their local newspaper for their high suspension rate of black and Hispanic students. Charters get a pass for that.( Little noticed in the big recent write up of the DC public schools and their suspension rate of black and Hispanic kids was the nasty fact that charter schools had twice or more the suspension rate. )

    It’s all very well to talk about culture, but you can’t change the kids that don’t want to change, and none of the true believers on either side have any clue whatsoever about how many kids actively resist buyin.

    The best teachers are the ones who understand this, and who can work a group of kids when the administration can’t–not won’t, but can’t–support the kind of “culture” you or the progressives demand, because they will be sued for disparate impact if they tried your nonsense on a grand scale. And those teachers can come from either school of thought or some combination of methods.

    Your success, such as it is, doesn’t come from your methods, but from the selection bias inherent in all charter schools and their ability to skate away from pressure that comprehensive schools are bound by. It’s that simple.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.