Wild Idea – Teaching Competition

Here are 25 Olympic athletes to watch.

Many begin practicing at very young ages.

Hmm.  Could that work for teaching?

We have debate teams in middle school, high school, and college debate teams.  Dallas Urban Debate Alliance alone is 10,000 kids.  Pop culture cred: movie with Denzel.

What if there were scholastic “Teaching Teams?”

Imagine a 9th grader.  Joins Teaching Team instead of Debate Team.  Topics are assigned.  She practices practices practices.  Probably enlists a favorite teacher to help her (who wouldn’t enjoy your student asking for teaching advice instead of curricular help?)  Then she competes against head to head against some other high school kid, gets judged, gets supported by teammates, etc.  (I know Andy’s commentariat tends to hate the word “competition” — but even in debate, chess, speech, etc?)

We have 150k to 200k new teachers each year.  Is it possible to imagine a world where thousands of them had five to ten years of formal teaching practice and evaluation before age 20, like many jocks and musicians?  Does this already exist somewhere?

-Guestblogger Mike Goldstein

8 Replies to “Wild Idea – Teaching Competition”

  1. Mike,

    This isn’t so much about high school students practicing teaching early, but in China, they definitely have teaching contests. I participated in a meeting a couple years ago, which brought together US and Chinese teachers, teacher educators, and researchers to compare notes on the career structure of math teachers. Heard about teaching contests, which are described briefly in the meeting report:


    “Advancing in rank often requires that teachers participate in teaching
    contests. These contests may be organized by governments at various levels or by education associations. Participants have tryouts in each school and then, at the district level, teach in front of a special evaluation panel. Teachers are judged on such factors as their mathematical accuracy, their instructional coherence, their interaction with students, whether the objectives of the lesson were accomplished, their use of technology, and their expressiveness and charisma. In some cases, they teach in front of their own students; in others, they draw classes at random. Typically, districts choose just a handful of people to progress to contests at the municipal or provincial level.”

    There is also an infrastructure in China by which teachers publish lesson plans, the findings of lesson study, and articles about their craft.

    Question I have about your idea, Michael. What exactly would they be practicing? How to tutor? Manage a classroom? One could argue that programs like Summerbridge/Breakthrough offer high school and college students some opportunities to practice teaching. In fact, that’s how I got in teaching, first teaching in a SB program and then founding and directing one.

  2. This is a great idea and sounds like it could work. I believe it is possible to work in any profession. It would advance all teachers and it would be a great start for teachers to prepare themselves to be the best educators. Is this going to happen and be like the olympics, most likely not. But even if schools could start something like this, it would really boost education around the world. Great idea!

  3. This is the worst idea, perhaps ever. There are a lot of bad actors out there who value knowledge just as much as good people.

    See, the reason Einstein got to be such a genius has to do with how his Swiss physics teacher won a teach-off with the nasty Austrian physics teacher. When in hell did so many Americans get it in their heads that competition is the be-all and end-all in life?

  4. Typically I am 100% in favor of competition. I use competition all the time in classes to push my students. In class however the contest is clear. Each student knows exactly how they are being graded and what their scores indicate. As Catlike mentioned you could potentially score teacher competitions on accuracy, coherence, interactions, etc., however these objective qualities are often not what inspires students to succeed! So many times I have had students struggle for nearly the entire year only to find success toward the end, or even find success the following year. This cannot be judged in a one lesson contest! The quality teacher is the one that develops meaningful relationships with their students…in addition to quality instruction, and this takes time. It cannot be shown in a limited teaching contest and additionally will never be something that can be quantified. Pushing for teaching contests would only give the false impression to teachers that it is their methods that make the difference, not their personal touch that influences their students lives.

  5. Teaching competition would be like an teaching olympiad to bring out the best of teachers in teaching arena thereby directly benefiting students and bring out the best in them.

  6. I am currently in grad school and we are discussing about being a reflective practioner and I think this would be a great way for a teacher to reflect on him/herself. Mentoring/teaming up with a student that wants to be a teacher or is already in a program to teach seems like a good way for a teacher to also reflect. Not only can the teacher reflect on their ideals, but also gain new ideas within the competition.
    I also think this would be a good only if it was met with the utmost honesty. This competition would give prospective teachers an idea of what they would be getting into on all levels. Ideas that could approached could be coping skills on testing, administration, classroom management, and teacher burnout. Other areas that could be touched pedagogy knowledge, and self/student refelction.
    I would love to participate in something like this if it was to ever come to fruitation!

  7. Dear Mike,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. I think the post is really timely given that the Olympics are happening in London. I think that all students, no matter their career path should be able to have a similar opportunity. This would save them time and money investing in a career that many realizes later they are unhappy with their decision. I believe, the earlier you invest someone into something, the more likely they will continue onto that path or divert but initially go into the field that sparked their interest. I do know that in high school, they have teaching programs that allow students to become familiar with understanding how to become teachers and to shadow particular teachers. How effective certain programs are depends on the overall outcome and what the program hopes to achieve. However, I agree that programs should be offered to children as early as possible.
    I think your idea of a “teacher team” competition is a great idea for several reasons. The first reason relates to the study that I have been engaged within this week in my undergraduate course at Walden University. In the “Teacher as a Professional “graduate-level course, this week’s assigned readings have dealt with the topic of professional learning communities. A professional learning community (PLC) is defined by Richard Dufour (2004) as, “ a group focusing on learning rather than teaching who works collaboratively and holds oneself accountable for results (p. 6).” In this makeshift society described in your post, it appears that this is what those interested at teaching at a young age will encounter. Also students will be given the opportunity to become critical thinkers, researchers, and writers which will raise the achievement level of all students participating and prepare them for college level work. Research suggests that colleges do not prepare pre-service teachers well enough to become full-fledged teachers. This unpreparedness could be because teaching is not something that can be read in a book. It is more of an application career where you have to read and then apply but be weary that there is no correct formula for success (Nieto, 2003; Tomlinson, 2003).
    Allowing students to become involved in the work teachers do will give them a better understanding of the intellectual work that has to be undertaken because children lives are always at stake (Nieto, 2003). In the process, the students will eventually grow into confident teachers who realize that in order to become effective teachers they must continue learning to improve their practice (Nieto, 2003). In addition, having teachers compete is healthy for the sustainment and improvement of education within our country. In a way we are already doing this using the state assessments to show how individual teachers scored with students. If more competition was given like this, this would encourage teachers to improve their practice and cause ineffective teachers to leave the profession. If teachers are going to improve they must collaborate with colleagues and form a support system so that they can draw on the strengths of others. Forming such relations according to Nieto (2003) is essential. However, so many teachers, knowing they have a problem, are too afraid to expose their shortcomings (Nieto, 2003). If shortcomings are addressed this could raise student achievement levels for those students who are below grade level. Such collaboration would allow the struggling teacher to draw from the strengths of all teachers regardless to the experience to find a solution. These teachers, within your teacher teams” would be better suited for teaching and remaining in the career. They would see the value of collaborative groups and the idea of becoming anew; reinventing themselves and their work to better serve their students (Nieto, 2003).
    Dufour, R. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61(18), 6-11
    Neito, S. (2005). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.
    Tomlinson, C.A. (2003). The response of reflection. ASCD Express. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ascd-

  8. Javon, you have mischaracterized Nieto as supporting competition amongst teachers. What is Walden teaching these days about using sources? In fact, nothing you have written supports the premise of a teaching competition at all. There is a big difference between a demonstration of competency or excellence versus a sporting-like competitive event. It’s sad to read how many here do not understand the difference.

    Think of it this way: How many Olympic-like competitions are there for greatest neurosurgeon student? Turning teaching into a sport would cheapen the cognitive and affective dimensions of teaching and learning. Such events would have just the opposite effect Nieto would like to see.

    Is this what Americans have become? A nation of winner-wanna-bes? Thing is, in a nation that celebrates only winners, the losers are left with…what? Winning a competition is a zero-sum game; in teaching and learning, everyone can ‘win’.

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