- Building a Better Teacher
Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) is an excellent book that deserves the widest possible audience. It is a tremendously insightful and engaging look at teacher education, and I believe it has the power to change public discussions of teacher education for the better. Though it is written for a popular—and not a scholarly—audience, Green’s book raises a number of questions that will be of particular interest to philosophers of education. I turn to those questions at the end of this review after describing Green’s project and what it accomplishes.
To begin, Green finds a way to make educational research interesting—even intriguing—to a general audience. She does this by making the quest to transform teacher education into the complex and often contentious pursuit that it is. Instead of offering simplistic dichotomies or silver bullets, Green tells stories that underscore the difficulties and uncertainties of teacher education while at the same time illustrating (through the work of teacher educators like Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball) that teacher education can—and is—improving. These stories of improvement empower Green to make what some readers may feel is a contentious claim; namely: public discussions and policy decisions related to teacher education are often off base because they are held captive by the “Myth of the Natural-Born Teacher” (6). This myth leads its adherents to subscribe to the belief that teachers are born, and that teacher education is—at best—something of a moderately pleasant distraction, and at worst a waste of time, money, and attention. Saying this, Green’s work should not be read as an endorsement of university teacher education. Like many critics of schools of education, Green believes that faculty at these schools are incentivized to spend as much time as possible on their research and as little time as possible teaching teachers the practice of teaching.1 Because there is a strong emphasis on scholarship in the leading schools of education (often scholarship that is only tangentially related to the practice of teaching and building a knowledge base on how teacher educators can prepare their students to teach),2 graduates of teacher preparation programs may struggle when they begin teaching because they were not taught how to enact what they learned during the teacher preparation process.3 [End Page 89]
In light of these perceived flaws, Green devotes significant attention to work being done in charter schools. In particular, Green highlights Doug Lemov’s taxonomy of teaching to show what can happen when teaching is decomposed into its most important and its most common components, and when teachers are then taught (often on the job) how to become better at these components.4 This approach accomplishes what schools of education often fail to do. Instead of leaving teachers to enact what they learned with little or no guidance, Lemov’s taxonomy (and things like it) give teachers a framework within which they can work toward clearly defined teaching practices meant to promote student success. Instead of leaving teachers on their own to imagine (and enact) what the good or just classroom might be, Lemov’s taxonomy tells teachers what they can do to make an immediate impact on student learning as measured by things like admission to competitive colleges and achievement on standardized assessments. Green appreciates this type of taxonomy because it explodes the myth of the natural-born teacher. Lemov’s taxonomy does what many schools of education cannot: It demonstrates that an individual interested in teaching can become a better teacher if she follows a clearly articulated (and then regularly assessed) protocol. Instead of wasting time taking courses learning about how schools might be transformed or reconstructed (foundations courses, courses about the aims or ends of education),5 the protocol tells you how to make an impact now.
To Green, there is something terribly optimistic in knowing that there are in...