Tough Teachers Get Results (finally, some common sense)

Mr. K

“I had a teacher who once called his students ‘idiots’ when they screwed up…he made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.  Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country…I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher…Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields…What did Mr. K do right?…Comparing Mr. K’s methods to the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion:

It’s time to revive old-fashioned education.  

Not just traditional but old fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing: It works…and the following eight principles – a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research – explain why:

  1. A little pain is good for you. (…true expertise requires teachers who give “constructive, even painful feedback…”)
  2. Drill, baby, drive. (…rote learned, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children who come from India are creaming their peers…(research) concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded “drill and practise.)
  3. Failure is an option. (…the fear is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem.  Wrong again…)
  4. Strict is better than nice. (Studies of the most highly effective teachers..their No. 1 finding: “They were strict.”
  5. Creativity can be learned. (…You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create that discipline…)
  6. Grit trumps talent. (…Grit defined as passion and perseverance is the best predictor of success…)
  7. Praise makes you weak. (…Mr. K seldom praised us. His highest compliment was “not bad.”  Kids told praised for being “smart” because less confident.  But kids told that they were “hard workers” became more confident and better performers.)
  8. Stress makes your strong (…moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience…Mr K. could have written a book on these principles…cold and unyielding.)

Read entire article at wsj.com: Why Tough Teachers Get Results


 

Comments

  1. There’s a fine line between being strict, bringing out the best in students, and the kind of strict that makes kids feel worthless and oppressed. I don’t go for this teacher calling his students idiots, but obviously he had a lot of good points that made up for it.

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  2. There’s a big leap between the existence of a hard-ass teacher who did a good job and was appreciated by many students, to the idea that being hard-ass causes quality. For one thing, there’s an obvious potential for bias in that one does not know how many students were damaged, hated him, did poorly and/or did not fly back. For another, association does not equal causation.

    Yes, it is possible for a tough teacher to get results. But becoming tough is not likely to turn a lousy teacher into a good one – he (or she) will simply be a tough lousy teacher.

    P

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  3. I’m with you and Peter on this – having experienced the tough, abusive and absolutely damaging teacher and the strict, no bullshit teacher who nonetheless never hesitated to show he had a heart of mush and loved his students dearly. Not to paraphrase Robin Thicke but the line is thin and can be blurred. (sorry just had to do that)

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  4. The two toughest teach I ever had were in HS geometry, and freshman management classes. I remember the lessons learned in these classes to this day. They weren’t namby pamby teachers, they were tough as nails, and I wouldn’t trade away a minute in their classes for anything.

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  5. Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times, yes! Great post, David. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Laurens Van Der Post once wrote that we never take anything as far as we can, because we cannot recognize our own limits. That is what coaches and teachers do. They take us beyond where we feel we can go.

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  7. i have to say that i so disagree with this. my personal teaching philosophy is so different, my job is to find a way to instill a love of learning, inspire curiosity, show them it is safe and important to question things, to show them it’s good to experience and feel and fail and go far, and to know that they are an important part of this world, and most of all to teach them to give back more than they have taken and to develop a sense of empathy, for then they each will have made the world just a bit better.

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  8. Don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but obviously works

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  9. I agree with most of these. The problem with school for me was all the other kids 🙂
    Seriously, I was a terrible student, hated school and played hooky as much as possible. I never had the sense that we were there to learn anything, or at least nothing that I was interested in.
    The only things school did for me was further my ability to read, memorize multiplication tables (this truly remains useful), understand how to read maps of the world (this made me curious about what went on outside of my own territory, and encourage me to read and write inspite of not particularly enjoying the reading assignments in school.
    Prior to our public school system, children used to spend more time with adults, learning the skills that would help them survive as they grew towards adulthood. Now, what is there ot learn from them, how to shop, how to work the remote?

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    • You, a terrible student? Debra, I would have taken a bet on the other side of that based on the nature and quality of your posts. If you missed this article on Children, Play, Learning from older kids and adults, this essay is worthy:

      http://www.aeonmagazine.com/being-human/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play/

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      • Wow, great article, even if it is sad.
        “playing is learning.” Love this! I was fortunate to grow up in a time and place in a neighborhood that was still vital and we kids played more or less unsupervised and without helmets 🙂
        Although always a terrible student, I was still motivated to learn. I thank my parents for that because my mom always told me I was smart (if not also a smart aleck), and my dad, a very scientifically minded guy, taught me all kinds of things about how stuff works. To this day, and he is still going strong at 82, he is very analytical about everything.
        He does not consider himself a thinker, but he definitely is.
        I do worry about kids and childhood, but I try to remain optimistic as there are a lot of young people that I have met who are very bright and have a lot of care for the world and want to help others.

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  10. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Wow, really not sure what to say. It’s surprising people flocked to his graveside – former students.

    When you come from a home where your parents say you are not good enough, never will be good enough, you are without skill, talent, or hope to be “anything” in your life, I really don’t think this teacher would be a positive influence in your life. In fact, this teacher just might be the straw to break your back.

    I’m afraid I don’t agree, but understand your belief (or think I do). I wouldn’t wish this kind of character upon my child.

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  11. I understand all of that, but I don’t agree with a lot of it. The teachers I have the best memories of are the ones who had very high expectations, but were very human and kind at the end of it all. Students wanted to do well, even with those extremely high expectations…because the reward was to be able to see the other side of the teacher once the expectations were met. Yes, I do believe that the expectations should be high these days…but kindness, empathy, compassion, praise, and love are just as essential to success.

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    • I believe there is a fine line there Carol between kindness, empathy, compassion and being demanding and uncompromising in the learning process. And in my opinion, there is where excellence resides.

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      • It’s the example that is set which is the teacher…that is what I believe. That is why my best memories are of the teachers who were extremely intelligent themselves, and yet capable of bestowing praise and kindness at the end of it all. If the example is a teacher who has no qualms about doling out pain and stress…then the student may become the same. This world does not need more of that.

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        • Yes to all. But, I would argue we’ve taken it too far and teachers are no longer finding it comfortable to push. And here is where I think our children will be not benefit from demanding higher levels of performance.

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  12. I visited Hollytrees Museum in my town of Colchester today on childhood. On display was a quote from a child from Edwardian times who said that the students treated teachers like gods, if a child did not salute with their cap to a passing teacher on their way to school the teacher would take them to the front of the class and beat them.

    Like all things in life moderation is good, mixing traditional with modern is the way forward, too much discipline is bad.

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  13. I hated school. Full stop. The only teachers I learnt anything from, were the ones who were kind and polite to me. Rude or violent teachers (those with rulers and canes) did not earn my respect, so I closed my ears to them.

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    • I didn’t hate school and the teachers I (most) learned from were talented, demanding and uncompromising as to what they believed was right and resulted in growth for their students. I can understand how students have experiences over the entire bad to excellent spectrum.

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  14. There’s something about someone who sets boundaries for us and holds us accountable for doing and being our best that makes a lasting impression.

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  15. I’m in total agreement with this article and with the comments about tough vs. abusive. One thing that is notably different now, than when I went to school, beyond the corporal punishment issue is the level of respect and support teachers get these days. Back in the day, if I got in trouble at school or if the teacher called home or sent a note home, I was held accountable. I was told, “Straighten up.” My behavior and performance were my responsibility and my parents supported my teachers in making sure I took responsibility for myself. Nowadays, when the teacher sends a note home or makes a phone call to a parent, They are not greeted with the same support. They often get accusations that it is somehow the teacher’s fault the child misbehaved (right, like the teacher made your kid punch out his classmate at recess) or there are excuses made for the child’s behavior. Until that changes in our society, the teachers have a tough battle every day in the classroom.

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  16. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    Reblogged this on LaDona's Music Studio and commented:
    … and speaking of good teaching …

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