What Makes a Good Teacher?

Bill Gates invested $335 million last year to find out how to make K-12 teachers more effective. In making the announcement he said, “Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn’t have a clear view of what characterizes good teachers. I’m personally very curious.”

Enter Doug Lemov, a 42-year-old teacher of teachers, and his new book “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.”

Technique No. 1 is “No Opt Out. How to move students from the blank stare or stubborn shrug to giving the right answer every time.” His book is a dictionary of tips on how to get kids to pay attention in class.

Lemov founded and still runs Uncommon Schools, a network of 16 charter schools in the Northeast. These charter school teachers receive incentive pay and use simple teaching strategies. Lemov’s curiosity to get students to follow his directions on the first try launched a five years of research video taping teachers across the county.

Mr. Lemov’s philosophy is simple: Students can’t learn unless the teacher succeeds in getting them to follow instructions. His book crisply describes the crystal clear logic of classroom management that frequently get lost in the flurry of lesson plans or muddied in the halls of academia.

All of Lemov’s techniques rely upon reading the students’ point of view. He asserts that students pay attention not because the teacher has charisma but because the teacher is being direct and specific.

“Please get your things out for class,” doesn’t move kids. In fact the teacher almost always ends up chiding students for noncompliance or misbehavior.

Instead Doug Lemov shows a video clip of a teacher using a technique called “Build Momentum/Narrate the Positive” that creates a literal wave of change across the classroom. It involves simple instruction with positive framing. Something we could all benefit from regardless of our environment.

A teacher’s control, he says, should be an exercise in purpose, not power. So you get technique No. 45, the “Warm/Strict” in which a correction comes with a smile and an explanation for its cause. – “We don’t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.”

Technique No. 22 is Cold Call, is in honor of the Harvard Business School. Here students don’t raise their hands. The teacher asks the question first and then says the student’s name forcing every student to work through the answer.

Experts praise the common sense tactics. Dacia Tool, executive officer of Achievement First, says: “Doug Lemov has captured in one place the specific, practical techniques used by the best teachers in some of our country’s best urban schools. Any teacher, principal or policymaker who is interested in what it takes on a classroom level to close the achievement gap should read this book.”

David Levin, co-founder of Knowledge is Power Program, praises the book for “pulling back the wizardry of the most successful teachers in a collection of clearly explainable and learnable techniques.”

Lemov proves that professional development doesn’t have to be a complicated illusory concept. “Teach Like A Champion” comes with a DVD of 25 video clips of teachers demonstrating the techniques in the classroom. Click here to see for youself what makes a good teacher.