Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

John Merrow learned about the latest trending idea in teacher training. Give a teacher a script, put a “bug” in his or her ear, and let the teacher follow instructions.

This is what he calls “insect-based” teacher training.

He decided to visit some schools to find out how it was working.

Part 1 begins like this:

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. “The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

I stopped reading right there, but you don’t need to!

Then he posted Part 2, where he continued his investigation. 

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

To get the inside scoop on “insect-based teacher training,” this is a must-read.

In case you wondered, the first time I ever heard of the bug-in-your-ear approach to teaching, it was in the description of the methodology of Bridge International Academies, the private sector effort to take over schooling in certain African nations. The BIA approach was to give each teacher an iPad (or similar device) with a curriculum written by TFA teachers located in Boston. Then each teacher got a bug-in-the-ear to make sure that they were delivering the curriculum precisely as directed by the device. BIA charges a fee and was engaged in trying to turn a profit by enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the world’s poorest countries. Its investors included Bill Gates, Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, and the World Bank. The problem with its approach was that it had the effect of discouraging the government from taking responsibility for building a universal, free public education system. Furthermore, if students couldn’t pay the fees, they were kicked out. BIA says it gets higher scores, which is not surprising since it accepts students only if they can pay. Strange that BIA’s methods crossed the ocean back to where it was started.

Arthur Goldstein, veteran teacher of many decades, thinks he knows a thing or two about teaching English. The State Education Department doesn’t trust him or other English teachers. So they have distributed new mandates about how to teach “advanced literacy” to make sure that he does what he is told. And he doesn’t like it. 

Frankly, it sounds like Common Core in a new dress.

Goldstein writes:

Forget everything you’ve heard and read about education. There’s a new paradigm, and it’s called Teaching Advanced Literacy Skills. This is revolutionary, of course, because it appears clear to the authors that no English teacher in the history of the universe has ever taught advanced literacy. Also, since no one in the world will ever go into a trade, and since everyone will spend their entire lives doing academic writing, we need to start work on this right away.

No, evidently we just do the whole phonics thing, and once students are able to sound out words, we give up on them for the next eleven years or so and hope for the best. Thank goodness these brilliant writers are here to let us know that students need to be able to identify a main idea, and that this indispensable skill is actually an amalgam of other vital skills.

Not only that, but we now know that it’s important students use a variety of sources to support their arguments, as opposed to just making stuff up (like the President of the United States, for example). That’s why we, as teachers, should hand them several sources on which to base their writing, as do the geniuses in Albany when they issue the NY State ELA Regents, the final word on whether or not students have advanced literacy.

Never mind that students who’ve passed the test with high grades don’t seem to know how to read or write well. Never mind nonsense like writer voice, mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. Never mind whether or not anyone actually wishes to read whatever writing the students produce, because that’s also mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. The important thing is that they be able to produce academic writing. Do you go out of your way to read academic writing? Neither do I.

The book is big on synthesis, that is, using multiple sources. Like the awful English Regents exam,  students are generally provided with sources. I suppose this is some sort of training to write research papers. Here’s the thing, though–if you write research papers you will have to find your own sources. I recall being in summer classes at Queens College, in their old crappy library searching through shelves with a flashlight trying to find things to write about. No such issue for our advanced literacy-trained students. Here are texts a, b, c and d. Get out there and tell me which ones are better.

We don’t need to teach students about logical fallacy either, which is good news for politicians everywhere. Students need not recognize ad hominem or straw man arguments. No guilt by association for you. We don’t need to bother showing them why some arguments are less logical than others, as per this book at least. I suppose when Donald Trump calls whatever doesn’t suit him “fake news,” that’s okay. It’s just another academic source.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book, to me, is that the project they spend the most time on is one in which students discuss whether or not their school should adopt uniforms. I wrote in the margins, “great topic,” Why? Because this was a topic that had a direct effect on their lives. This decision would change their behavior, and perhaps change their entire school. There was an intrinsic motivation for students to be involved in this decision.

Nowhere in the book did the writers deem this worthy of mention. I have no idea whether or not they even noticed it. I did, though, and it was hands down a better topic than some of the crap students must wade through on the English Regents exam. Don’t get me wrong–I understand that students, like us, will have to wade through a lot of crap in their academic lives. To me, though, it seems smarter to make them love reading. It seems smarter to motivate them to do so on their own. Then, when they have to read some crap to which they cannot relate, they’ll be better equipped to do so, having developed the skills this book advocates in a far more positive fashion.

One thing that makes me love writers is something called writer voice. A great example of this is Angela’s Ashes, a non-fiction work (!) by the late and brilliant Frank McCourt. They made a film out of it which faithfully told the story, but was total crap. That’s because the allure and charm of this story was all about the way McCourt told it, his humor, his deft and inspiring use of language. He had me at the first sentence about childhood, and kept me hypnotized until the last sentence. I couldn’t put the book down.

Why should students today have the same pleasure? Why do experienced teachers know about teaching anyway? Nothing, by the lights of the bureaucrats in Albany.


Steven Singer writes here about how economic thinking has distorted the purposes of schooling and is wrecking our society by turning everything into a transaction.

Here is an excerpt, in which he defines the transactional view of teaching:


The input is your salary. The output is learning.

These are distinctly measurable phenomena. One is calculated in dollars and cents. The other in academic outcomes, usually standardized test scores. The higher the salary, the more valued the teacher. The higher the test scores, the better the job she has done.

But that’s not all.

If the whole is defined in terms of buying and selling, each individual interaction can be, too.

It makes society nothing but a boss and the teacher nothing but an employee. The student is a mere thing that is passively acted on – molded like clay into whatever shape the bosses deem appropriate. 

In this framework, the teacher has no autonomy, no right to think for herself. Her only responsibility is to bring about the outcomes demanded by her employer. The wants and needs of her students are completely irrelevant. We determine what they will become, where they will fit into the burgeoning economy. And any sense of curiosity or creativity is merely an expedient to make children into the machinery of industry and drive the gross domestic product higher to benefit our stock portfolios and lower corporate taxes.

And since this education system is merely a business agreement, it must obey the rules of an ironclad contract. And since we’re trying to seek our own advantage here, it’s incumbent on us to contain our workforce as much as possible. This cannot be a negotiation among equals. We must keep each individual cog – each teacher – separate so that they can’t unionize together in common causeand equal our power. We must bend and subject them to our will so that we pay the absolute minimum and they’re forced to give the absolute maximum.



Peter Greene does not like stupid analogies.

He rejects the dumb idea that “a good teacher is like a candle that burns out.”

Hell, no!


Mercedes Schneider writes here about a program in New Orleans to recruit new charter teachers. In the all-charter district, the teachers seem to be dropping like flies. Almost 40% of its teachers have less than three years experience.

The program at Xavier University issues a certification for life, but here is the catch: the certification is valid only in New Orleans!

On September 09, 2019, the Hechinger Report published an article entitled, “A New Teacher Vows to Help in a Classroom Full of Need: ‘Under the Right Conditions, They’d Be Stars.’”

The article features a teaching intern who is part of the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency, an alternative teacher certification program specifically aimed at recruiting individuals who already hold a bachelors degree in another area to agree to teach three years beyond an initial “residency year” at an assigned New Orleans charter school in exchange for roughly $29K in residency-year financial assistance toward earning a masters degree in education.

From the site’s “about” page:

Who we are

The Residency is a first-of-its-kind partnership not only in New Orleans, but nationally.

And from the “what to expect” page:

Residency Year 1

The Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency merges the best of Xavier University of Louisiana’s teacher preparations practices with the work of five of New Orleans’ leading charter school networks.  During the residency year, a cohort of 30 residents enroll as full-time graduate school students, while also apprentice teaching at schools in the NCFTR network. Residents attend graduate school classes as they work alongside a mentor teacher in a classroom throughout the week.  They build confidence through practice and reflection, and over the course of the year, they gradually take on greater responsibility in the classroom.

Employment in Years 2-4

After year 1, the NCFTR team works with teachers and schools to ensure that the transition into year 2 is smooth. Residents who successfully complete the residency year move into classrooms of their own as full-time teachers of record. While working to complete their remaining Master’s Degree coursework, they apply the skills and knowledge they have built in order to take on the responsibilities of lead teaching. They continue to access the network of support that they have built with their residency year cohort.

Residents commit to teach for three consecutive years immediately following the residency year. After Year 1, Residents are highly likely to remain in the same school or CMO for their additional three-year commitment. Participants who leave a NCFTR partner school before their four-year commitment ends may be responsible for paying back a portion of funds received in their residency year.


My favorite line in the Hechinger Report article that Schneider cites is this one: Though it was just her first year of teaching, Molière, 49, was already an expert at motivating students, who raised their hands high in the air and vied for her attention, then beamed when they got it.

Presumably the teacher had begun work only a week or two ago (the start of the school year), but she was already an expert!

Only in New Orleans are teachers considered “experts” in this first few weeks on the job.

Larry Cuban writes that efforts to standardize teaching invariably fail because teachers adapt whatever they are given to the students they teach.

The past half-century has seen record-breaking attempts by policymakers to influence how teachers teach. Record-breaking in the sense that again and again (add one more “again” if you wish) federal and state policymakers and aggressive philanthropists have pushed higher curriculum standards in math, science, social studies, and reading decade after decade. With federal legislation of No Child Left Behind (2002-2015) and Every Student Succeeds Act (2015-) teaching has been influenced, even homogenized (following scripts, test prep, etc.) in those schools threatened by closure or restructuring. Now with Common Core standards, the push to standardize math and language arts instruction in K-12 (e.g., close reading for first graders) repeats earlier efforts to reshape classroom lessons. If past efforts are any indicator, then these efforts to homogenize teaching lead paradoxically, to more, not less, variability in lessons. But this increased variation in teaching seldom alerts policymakers and donors in their offices and suites to reassess the policies they adopt.

The take-aways from this post are first, policies aimed at standardizing classroom practice increase variation in lessons, and, second, teachers are policymakers.

Policies aimed at standardizing classroom practice increase variation in lessons

Gary Rubinstein has a keen eye for teacher-bashing disguised as research.

In this post, he takes apart a new paper from Michelle Rhee’s old outfit TNTP, which blames teachers for “low expectations.”

He begins:

Before Michelle Rhee was a board member for Miracle-Gro she was the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst.  Before that, she was Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010.  Before that, she was the CEO of The New Teacher Project.

And even though Rhee is not a public figure anymore in education, she continues to influence education policy through The New Teacher Project which has since changed its name to TNTP.  TNTP puts out slick papers that it calls research but is really propaganda disguised as research.  Their first one was called ‘The Widget Effect’ which laid out the case for replacing salary schedules with a system based on merit pay based on statistically inappropriate analysis of standardized test scores.

And over the years they have put out other papers with clever titles like ‘The Irreplaceables’, ‘Rebalancing Teacher Tenure’, and ‘Teacher Evaluation 2.0.’  These papers are often quoted by ed reform propaganda sites like The74 and Education Post.

One of their most recent papers is called ‘The Opportunity Myth.’  Its central thesis is something that reformers love to use in their teacher bashing arguments, which is that too many teachers shortchange their students by having low expectations for them.  The work they assign is not challenging enough and since students always rise to the challenge of whatever you assign to them, these teachers are negligent in their duties.


Recently there has been a flurry of articles criticizing teachers and teacher educators for the way that reading is taught.

But, writes Nancy Bailey, none of them has looked at the effects of Common Core on reading instruction.

She wonders why the omission, why the indifference to the elephant in the room.


Retired New York City Teacher Norm Scott explains here why experience counts.

He writes:

I’ve been watching D-Day movies and finally saw Saving Private Ryan. In pretty much all war movies we see the big differences between grizzled war veterans and the rookies who are often scared to death. It is so clear how important experience is in warfare. I mean what commander wouldn’t want troops who knew the ropes?

In education we often find just the opposite where newbies are preferred. Low salaries. Non-tenured. They won’t talk back and will often do anything asked by administrators, no matter how stupid. And wise in education combat zones like those grizzled sergeants. Too many principals love newbies who they can manipulate.

Over the past few decades the idea that experience makes a difference for a teacher has been disparaged by the ed deformers. Note the growth of Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows where you get 6 weeks of boot camp and are sent into the world to make guinea pigs of students while you learn the ropes.

I was one of those. In 1967 grad students were losing their deferments and going into a 6 week boot camp for new teachers and teaching for two years was a way out and I took it and became a newbie teacher. You know those war movies where the guy is sweating and wracked with fear – Corporal Upham in Private Ryan is the prototype – a coward afraid of combat. I was Upham my first year of teaching. Facing a class of children and keeping them under control was my greatest fear. They were often off the wall. I was envious of these little ladies in my school who had perfect control. When I finally learned how to control a class it was one of the major achievements of my life. I never would have survived as a teacher if I couldn’t. Well, I could have become an administrator.

My friend Arthur Goldstein, who is an ESL teacher and the union leader at Francis Lewis HS, one of the largest and most overcrowded in the city, for the past 15 years has written a very influential education oriented blog called NYC Educator sharing a lot of insights into the many facets of the process and often mystery of teaching.

I wanted to share an excerpt from his posting on June 12 about the coming end of the school year. Arthur has given his finals but still has to keep the students interested. He gives them a surprise test with questions such as: When was the War of 1812? Where does Chinese food come from? What color is the white board? He wondered about a student who got one of these wrong.

Arthur has many decades of teaching and here he gets to some of the essence of why experience matters for teachers.

[Arthur writes:]

“One of the things Cuomo didn’t consider when pushing the miserable evaluation law is what it’s like to bomb in front of 34 teenagers. This, of course, is because he’s never taught, and he’s never been through what we go through each and every day. I don’t know about you, but I fear that more than I fear some supervisor with an iPad. I remember it happening to me in my first few years. I remember watching other teachers and wondering exactly what they were doing that I was not. Why are their classes calm while mine is off the wall? I’m not sure there’s an easy response to that. I’d say things got just a little better when I started calling houses. And maybe I’ve grown more confident or authoritative over the years. Mostly, I have more experience and more go-to lesson plans. If I see something not working I can usually push it in another direction and try something at least different, if not always better.”

That’s it. Arthur has the experience to see what is not working and has the confidence he can figure things out. Like the great pitcher whose slider is not working but adjusts. Not to compare teaching to baseball. Or combat. Welllll, maybe. One of my old pals and colleagues, Rockaway resident David Bentley used to tell the story of his first year in a tough school in 1967-68 when a class of children was so out of control he walked into the office of the principal, a tough old bird named Sophie Beller (Lagosi was her nickname) and told her he was quitting and would rather go to Vietnam. She sent him home for the day to recover and he ended up becoming one of the great teachers in my school. Ahhhh, that good ole experience does count.



Reader Greg Brozeit posted the following comment and video.

I went to see Hiss Golden Messenger, aka MC Taylor, perform. He played a new song that I think all of you will appreciate. Here is what he said to introduce it:

“I was thinking about, what to make a video, how to make a video for this song. And I started thinking about all of the teachers that I’ve had in my life, specifically public school teachers. My wife is a public school teacher. Both of my parents were public school teachers. My sister is a high school counselor. Both of my kids go to public schools. I’m a product of public schools. And we all turned out pretty good. And, I don’t know what it’s like here [Cleveland], but teachers in North Carolina get treated like absolute trash. And it’s rough. So, the teachers in North Carolina, about a month ago, staged a walkout, it wasn’t a strike, but school was cancelled statewide and thousands of teachers gathered in the state capital, Raleigh, and marched with their demands. Which are simple: fund education, basically. It seems so simple.

“So, we sent a film crew out there just to capture the faces of the teachers, just to take their pictures and assemble them into a video. And I think that I’m really close to it because of all the people in my life that have been teachers and have been dealing with legislators telling them that they’re lazy, they’re not worth paying any more than, you know, a babysitter. And the video is so heavy. I can’t wait for you to see it. When I got the first cut back, I just cried and cried like I haven’t before because I saw this thing in these teachers’ faces that I’ve been seeing my whole life, which is like: we love this job, why don’t you pay us to do it?

“So, yeah, you’re going to see this video in a couple of days, but this is a tune called ‘I Need A Teacher.’”

It was released today and I hope you all enjoy and will be inspired by it as I was:

Love me harder
Cry like thunder
Kick the floorboards
Paint it a different color

Another year older
Debt slightly deeper
Paycheck smaller
Goddamn, I need a teacher

Rock me, Daddy, I’m still your kid
The ways to you are oh so very different
Beauty in the broken American moment

Rock me, Daddy, happiness ain’t free
I see where you’re at, I know you can see me
Beauty in the broken American moment

Tell the truth, dear
Don’t be jaded
That’s no way to play it
To say it
To feel it

Lord, make me thankful
Though it ain’t easy
Give it away freely
It’ll come back to you eventually

Rock me, Daddy, I’m still your kid
The ways to you are oh so very different
Beauty in the broken American moment

Rock me, Daddy, happiness ain’t free
I see where you’re at, I know you can see me
Beauty in the broken American moment