28 Jan

I enjoy the writing of Malcolm Gladwell. I first read ‘Blink’ which lead me to ‘The Tipping Point’, Gladwell’s columns in ‘The New Yorker‘ and his blog. It doesn’t hurt that he’s from Southern Ontario (Elmira). He is a “Thinker” and I appreciate the way he explains complex ideas by comparing them with more common and well understood concepts.

Here is a piece he wrote comparing the recruitment and training of NFL quarterbacks with the same process for teachers. He makes the point that the only way to know if someone is good at being an NFL QB, and also a classroom teacher, is to see them doing the job. Previous qualifications have very little baring because the task is quite unlike any other in the subtle behaviours needed to get it right.

Gladwell argues that because of this, the methods we use to discover if someone could be a good classroom teacher are ineffective. He suggests that what is needed are fewer credentialed barriers to entry into teaching combined with a stricter ‘weeding process’ to remove those ill suited and greater rewards for those who make it through.

The piece is thought provoking, and the evidence of the importance of good teaching rings true. Research indicates that the difference between having a good teacher or a poor one for a year, may be as much as a full year of learning (the poor teacher covers only half a year’s material, while the good teacher covers a year and a half’s worth).

The crucial factor in a child’s learning is not the quality of the school, but the quality of the teacher. There are ineffective teachers in schools where the students don’t expose their weaknesses. Students from stable home environments that sit and do what they’re told, learn to get along and be compliant, but aren’t learning to be critical thinkers.

Incidentally, Gladwell’s brother Geoff is a principal in Cambridge, ON.

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