The End of the Rock Star Teacher

by Robert Pondiscio
February 15th, 2011

Note: A version of this post appears today on the website of Education Next, which recently asked me to review Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and Steve Farr’s Teaching as Leadership.   The review of the Lemov will run in the upcoming issue of Ed Next, but is on the magazine’s website today.  A blog post about the Farr book appears here.   — rp.

The first five words of Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion, are “Great teaching is an art.”  This is not a promising start. 

Well over three million women and men stand in front of classrooms every day in the U.S.  It is too much to hope for, and always will be, that more than a small percentage of them will be artists, great, bad or mediocre.  The degree to which we pin our hopes for large scale school improvement on attracting artists and rock stars to the classroom is the degree to which we plan to fail.  With an average salary of $52,000—an income level on par with electricians, probation officers, and funeral directors – teachers will not be recruited exclusively from the top ranks of college graduates. 

All is not lost.  After dispensing with those five poorly chosen words, Lemov spends the next 300 pages of his remarkable book completely contradicting his opening sentence, demonstrating in convincing detail that teaching is not an art at all, but a craft—a series of techniques that can be identified, learned, practiced and perfected.  In doing so, he has produced what may be the most important education book in a generation.  His focused, obsessively practical study of what makes teachers effective could—and should—shift the terms of our increasingly vitriolic national debate from “teacher quality to “quality teaching.”  This is no mere semantic distinction.  The difference is not who is in the front of the room. The difference is what that person does.  Lemov’s achievement is to examine effective teaching at the molecular level.   By doing so, he may have rescued education reform from its implicit dependence on classroom saints and superheroes.   It is an indispensible shift.  If teaching effectively is something for the best and the brightest, rather than the merely dedicated and diligent, education reform is finished, now and forever. Read the rest of this entry »