What do you notice?

The first year teaching is one of the hardest periods in someone’s professional life. If you’re lucky, you have a group of mentors and experienced teachers looking out for you (Thanks, Mr. C, Ms. Brusch, Sonya, Juan, et al). If you’re not as lucky, you get handed books, advice and professional development that never really add up to anything because the whole experience is so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start.

When I worked as a coach for the New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF), we were given Teach Like A Champion (TLAC), written by Doug Lemov of Uncommon Schools, which is a charter network. We were directed to model and get our Fellows to use the “techniques” in this book. I remember being skeptical when I read the book. This book only seemed to cover what to do if everyone in the classroom complied with what their teacher wanted. I wondered how my Fellows would cope if that didn’t happen. I taught and teach Special Education, and I know that a teacher needs many different approaches up their sleeves to engage students. TLAC did not account for any of the possibilities that things might unravel in the classroom. It was teaching the students these “routines” which are not so much about learning as they are about compliance.

I only worked for the Fellows one summer (another topic for another day), and I hadn’t thought about TLAC in years. Until a couple of weeks ago when I found Ilana Horn’s Tweet about how TLAC “Teach Like a Champion is a carceral pedagogy. Let’s get rid of it (https://twitter.com/ilana_horn/status/1270735671699922945).” Then I had to look up carceral, because I had never heard that before. It means “of or relating to prison.” Prison, I thought? But then I thought more about it and I read her further critique here: https://teachingmathculture.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/what-i-notice-and-wonder-about-teaching-like-a-champion/ . In the videos associated with this post and the book, what the (white) teachers are teaching is compliance. Not engagement. The classes in the video were in these box like classrooms where the students were silent, with their hands folded. It did, indeed, seem somewhat prison like.

There was a discussion on Twitter as to the racism of TLAC. It comes down to this: these techniques in the book are about how teacher control kids’ conduct in school and how they (both teachers and students) are rewarded or punished for the ability to do so. When I originally read the book, I mostly felt that the techniques were reductive at best and poor teaching practice at worst. It was about control and compliance, not about student learning. That is what classroom management should be about; how to maximize student learning in your given environment. Is it always neat? No. Quiet? Of course not. So that is where TLAC fails.

As an experienced teacher myself, I would never hand that book to a first year teacher and tell them that’s all you need to learn “classroom management.” Teachers should not want to control their students, but engage them so they want to learn more.

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