Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)by Elizabeth Green
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
"A must-read book for every American teacher and taxpayer." Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the WorldLaunched with a hugely popular New York Times Magazine cover story, Building a Better Teacher sparked a national conversation about teacher quality and established Elizabeth Green as a leading voice in
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
"A must-read book for every American teacher and taxpayer." Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the WorldLaunched with a hugely popular New York Times Magazine cover story, Building a Better Teacher sparked a national conversation about teacher quality and established Elizabeth Green as a leading voice in education. Green's fascinating and accessible narrative dispels the common myth of the "natural-born teacher" and introduces maverick educators exploring the science behind their art. Her dramatic account reveals that great teaching is not magic, but a skilla skill that can be taught. Now with a new afterword that offers a guide on how to identifyand supportgreat teachers, this provocative and hopeful book "should be part of every new teacher’s education" (Washington Post).
Journalist and cofounder of the news organization GothamSchools, Green promises to reveal how better teaching works and how everyone (or at least every teacher) can be taught how to do it. Unfortunately, the book promises more than it delivers. Green’s primary argument concerns the need for better teacher training (less attention to “teachers’ effect,” more attention to successful classroom practice), and one of her most insightful observations concerns the shifts that occurred when “universities... began to add the lucrative teacher-training business to their repertoires.” The material she cites most heavily comes from two distinguished specialists in training teachers to teach mathematics (Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball) and “from the world of educational entrepreneurs” (Doug Lemov, managing director of the Uncommon School charter network). Much of her content is classroom reportage that shows how teachers resolve the arithmetic problems of individual students. While this material will be of practical use to budding or aspiring teachers, it makes for dry reading. Japanese schools, charter schools, and national programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are assessed as well. The book is best-suited for education specialists and working teachers. Agent: Alia Hanna Habib, McCormick & Williams. (Aug.)
Ideas from a former principal on what makes for anexceptional teacher.Accountability and autonomy are the two guiding lights forprescribing changes in our schools, and as Green notes early on in this book,the two principles are often at loggerheads. Accountability proponents believein leveraging the power of data to study which teachers' students are meetingor exceeding goals; opponents claim that it stultifies educators, diminishingthe profession, and ineffectively measuring teacher and student "success."Autonomy proponents believe that if you elevate the profession and let theteachers steer their ships, the trust, freedom and respect will enable them todo their very best. Green gives both of these views credence but goes furtherto suggest that the reverence surrounding the best teachers is misguided, inthat it elevates the "natural born educator" mythos that suggests an inborntalent. Green deflates the "I could never do what they do" aura of the bestteachers, but in a good way. In extensive conversations and observations thatuncover the approaches that the best educators share, she distills how theyapply those approaches in similar ways despite differences inextraversion/introversion, humorous/serious teaching approaches, and flexible/rigidstandards. Green goes deeper than bromides about student engagement and motivation,digging into data about student success as well as examining the means used tocollect the data. She also chronicles her visits with professionals at multiplelevels (administrative, support, frontline teachers) through various successesand failures, gleaning wisdom from both—just as the best teachers would havetheir students do.A powerful, rational guidebook to creating genuinelyeffective education, written in a manner useful not just for schoolteachers,but everyone involved in the care of children.
Are exceptional teachers born with that gift, or can they be made? Green (cofounder, CEO, and editor in chief of nonprofit education news organization Chalkbeat) looks at both the history of teacher improvement efforts and current thinking and practice in teacher training and evaluation. The author acknowledges that inborn traits such as warmth and humor influence effectiveness. She also explores how effective teachers move students toward understanding and how their methods can be generalized to yield improved classroom techniques for almost anyone. From the Japanese practice of jugyokenkyu ("lesson study") to the creatively named TKOT ("This Kind of Teaching"), Green looks at how excellent teachers do it. Many of the author's examples are drawn from Teach for America and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and other charter school programs as they struggle to reach lofty educational goals, often with tight budgets and novice teachers. VERDICT This isn't a "how-to" book with checklists for making average teachers into educational stars, but contained within the well-documented narrative are many informational nuggets that motivated teachers can apply to their work. Principals and school administrators may find this work useful when planning meaningful professional development or teacher evaluation programs. [See Prepub Alert, 2/3/14.]—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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- 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Green is cofounder, CEO, and editor in chief ofChalkbeat, a nonprofit education news organization. A former Spencer Fellow at the Columbia School of Journalism, she has written for New York Times Magazine and other publications.
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This is a book to guide our policy. It has the potential to change the direction of education reform. It is well researched, with details about different approaches to improving education. Some people may be put off by positive aspects of approaches they dislike, but I find the treatment of each approach to be objective, with the weaknesses mentioned after the strengths. Elizabeth's main point is that teaching is not an innate talent but a skill that can be learned, and that we need to put more resources and effort into teaching that skill to current and future teachers. She shows what teaching is like with lesson descriptions, and how teaching can be improved.
I found myself taking notes as I read, and when the book was due back to the library, and I hadn't finished it, I had to buy it. Another good read in this genre is Teacher Wars.
One reviewer on this site expressed concern that the book focuses too much on charter schools. Perhaps it does but it seems clear that the author would LOVE to see better teacher preparation for ALL teachers, whether in public, private, or charter schools. The book does an excellent job making the case why that should happen. The end of the book is especially about evaluating teachers using their students' test scores (not a practice she approves of), and alternatives to that practice. This topic is, of course, highly relevant to public school teachers. Don't be distracted by whether the vignettes are of charter school teachers or regular public school teachers. The book is well written, well conceived, and important. - Andy
I was disappointed. As a public school teacher at my local community school (not a public charter school), this book became increasingly frustrating to read. There is a lot of bashing of public schools, and midway through the book we're taken on Seneca's teaching journey, a TFA alumna, as well as Doug's, one of the founders of APR charter school who has no prior experience in education. If you're like me, a non-charter school, public school teacher, I would not recommend this book. Enjoyed the sections about math and the teaching practices in Japan.
Painstakingly researched, scholarly, and beautifully written. A must read for all who care about the future of education in the United States. Green's book explains why so many teachers do not succeed in doing their jobs and offers hope to the profession by highlighting and describing the strategies used by those who do succeed.