Can One Be A “Champion” and “Well-Balanced” Teacher These Days?

I’m currently reading two books –  Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College and Mike Anderson’s The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside and Outside the Classroom.

The first of these piqued my interest when a nytimes article titled “Building a Better Teacher” appeared featuring Lemov’s book. The second book grabbed my attention mostly because if you try to do everything that a school asks you to do as well as use the techniques in Lemov’s books (by the way, many of those techniques are excellent for anyone who is a teacher), it is almost impossible to balance teaching inside and outside the classroom.

Here is an example in Lemov’s book about one of the “champions” he talks about: Julie Jackson who leaves her two children at 5:25 in the morning and doesn’t arrive home until 8pm later that same day. “After spending time with her family, she often flips open her laptop and emails until late in the evening.”

Lemov goes on to say that a good teacher isn’t someone with a gift, but someone who has “work ethic, diligence, and high personal standards.” I agree with that, but there’s often a cost – one of imbalance.

Lemov’s so-called 49 techniques are excellent, and while a little regimented, make perfect sense. For example, he suggests that you use precise and technical vocabulary. If you’re asking for the difference between two numbers in math, you are not asking about the difference in their properties. If you ask a child what the difference is between 10 and 8 is, and they answer, “One is a two digit number and one is a single-digit number,” in a way, the child is correct, but Lemov argues that you immediately correct this and define the term in math. Unfortunately, a lot of his techniques do not contribute to critical thinking or great dialogue among students, but also include some rather old-fashioned drill and kill ways to score well on a standardized test or simply to control one’s class.

Apart from lesson planning (also some excellent advice) what Lemov doesn’t do is talk about what teachers need to do outside of the classroom: collaborate with one another, discuss new curriculum materials, share what they have learned with each other, communicate with parents, consult with counselors, continue learning, read about best practices, correct student work, provide meaningful feedback, and so on. All of which require time, and yet so many schools have meeting after meeting only to read a list of announcements.

I’ll be sharing a few things I’ve learned with our faculty at our meeting on Wednesday. If they read this blog, they would have already seen my posts on those items. Since I’ll be presenting in a different format, I’ll try to make the most of it and try new things. We’ll see how that goes. Nonetheless, it will take preparation and time.

In Anderson’s book, he has some good advice. Advice though, that is difficult to take. He lays out his book in these sections:

  1. The importance of managing stress – Studies cited in his book find teachers have one of the highest levels of stress at work.
  2. Meeting our most basic needs – it’s true that I sometimes do not have the time to eat lunch because of supervisions, meetings, etc. He suggests journaling as a way to escape – somehow my journaling doesn’t disconnect me from work.
  3. Belonging: Becoming an Important Part of a Community – one of his suggestions in here is to engage in crucial conversations which he describes as those that can be difficult, however, I’ve noticed some people aren’t always receptive to those conversations.
  4. Significance – Teaching with a Sense of Purpose – Anderson suggests  creating a blog. He also says to remain creative and retain your voice. Today’s standardizations and textbook curricula are “sapping teachers of creativity and voice”.
  5. Competence – The Importance of Self-Efficacy – you’ve got to know what you’re teaching and feel good about what you do. Still, there is so much to know. This year, for example, my school took sustainability as its theme. While I’m a big proponent of this theme and its values, I’ve become more skeptical about organizations like LEED and the ‘greening’ of things. The bottom line is what behavior is really greener, not because it will get you a point, but because it is indeed a more sustainable practice.
  6. Fun -The Importance of Positive Engagement – when time is already an uncontrolled factor, how does one make a happy-hour fun. How does one build camaraderie, without it feeling like it’s forced? I’d love to create a lunch group for example and take turns bringing different things for members of the group, but with recess duties during lunch 4 days a week, that’s highly unlikely.
  7. Balance – The Importance of Planning out Time and Energy. Anderson’s suggestion of figuring out what to eliminate is a really good one. Last week, we only had half an instructional day due to snow days and the Thanksgiving holiday. We now have 3 weeks until a long 2-week break. Today, I sat down and prioritized the things that were most important to finish in these 3 weeks, and my job later will be to eliminate or postpone the items on the bottom of that list.

All in all, both books are good, but not great. Ultimately, I’d love to be a ‘champion teacher’ as cheesy as that book title sounds and be a ‘well-balanced’ one as well. Neither book  provided immediate help, but maybe over time they will.



One thought on “Can One Be A “Champion” and “Well-Balanced” Teacher These Days?

  1. Great post, Anthony!

    I have learned that my personal balance is crucial, non-negotiable, in order to have what I need for my students, classroom, parents and colleagues. It’s easy for me to check in with myself and see how my health is regarding my body, my personal and professional relationships, my connectedness to a larger community outside of work and my spiritual/emotional life. If these elements are in place, I am good to go as a teacher. If any one of them become widely out of kilter and suffers, it’s time for me to pull back and care for that part of me. Ultimately, throughout the various chapters of my life, it will be these areas of balance that will serve me best. Being a balanced person is a pre-requisite for me and then all the rest seems to naturally follow.

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