Crowdsourcing My Professional Development Essay

I think I have an angle on this prompt, but the commenting has been especially sharp around here lately and I’m interested in your take:

What is a core practice relating to teaching that every new teacher should be required to learn at a very high level before entering the classroom?

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. My one thing would be the ability to focus on a teaching problem, collect data, and reflect, hopefully through or with discussion with a colleague. In other words, the action plan idea from instructional coaching.

    My co-one thing (cheater) would be formative assessment techniques that gather data relevant to objectives about student understanding.

    I think these two things will help support novices through a lot of teaching growth. And non-novices, too.

  2. Absolutely nothing. As a teacher you only develop core skills ‘to a very high level’ by trying things, taking advice and then tweaking and adapting to what works best for you.

  3. I believe you have to be ready to get your hands dirty and forget all preconceived notions about the classroom that you may learned. I agree with John- Enter the classroom to learn. To take notes, to research, to read extensively, to write, to collaborate in a network, and don’t stop. Don’t let the dust settle and keep it messy.

  4. I’m with Chris. The only think I’d add might be: teaching is one of the most difficult forms of human interaction, and there’s no book, class, consultant or PD session that will change that. To be a good teacher, you’ve got to know yourself first–ser, no hacer–and that takes time. Also, don’t take it too seriously.

  5. I will, first of all, admit to being an odd sort of teacher in a non-traditional teaching environment. With that mindset, your question changed in my head slightly.

    That being said, I would say that the most important skill a teacher can cultivate before becoming a teacher is simply dealing with kids! I think teachers should be forced to work with kids in a non-academic environment before applying to a teaching program. Understanding (if that’s even a possible word to use when dealing with students) how to communicate WITH kids should be a baseline before learning how to communicate academics TO kids.


  6. I know you are going to roll your eyes, but I’d say make a Powerpoint that informs or guides, but doesn’t teach it.

    And I concur on the people skills. I mean, I’ve met some mutants in my day.

  7. Required to learn? I don’t know; I’ve never been an elementary school teacher, but I wonder: maybe in-classroom experience is more valuable than specific learned skills.

    Comfort with public speaking may be useful. Knowledge of the domain that you are teaching seems awfully important. I don’t know, I”m just speculating.

  8. I believe you have to begin with the desire to learn. I have to reecho the comments of knowing yourself. Sometimes you let the kids teach you about yourself. If you are not comfortable with self, you will have a devil of a time……But keep the desire to learn.

  9. I agree with the folks who have said that you should have actually talked to kids before you teach to see if you can actually relate to them at all. The kids don’t have to love you and you don’t have to be popular, but you have to know how to talk to them AND get them to engage with you.

    I like the word engagement – I am not sure you can teach someone how to engage but you have to be able to get others to think about things they don’t necessarily want to think about or care about. Finding a way to engage the learner in the topic they could care less about in a way thAt is meaningful to them and can mesh with their reality is key for successful teachers.

  10. I think it is more than loving kids today that makes you a successful teacher. When I started teaching that was the major requirement. Today that is only part of the equation. Teaching is more than just rocket science. Teachers change lives of their students. It is a profession more in line with a medical doctor. We have to enter our classrooms as professionals and we have to maintain that profession as learners and teachers.

  11. Long time lurker, first time poster and I think that is because, for once, my inexperience in the classroom gives me something to add to a debate. Having just started my second year teaching I would have to agree with Chris. I know I learnt more in my first two weeks of the actual job than I did during my training. I thought my training was pretty good and I agree with the importance of everything everybody else has said but if we’re talking about achieving a “very high level” of a core practice then I think that would be very difficult to achieve before entering a classroom.

  12. I think every new teacher should know how to relax with their buddies in the pub on a Friday.


    I mean, we work SO hard and hardly ever get a chance to chat with our colleagues about we are doing so I’d say new teachers need to know how to relax with their colleagues and not take home the stress from their jobs on the weekends.

  13. So I’m a first-year high school teacher who’s only been at this thing for a month, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

    That having been said, the thing that I’ve needed to do the most in my first month is know how to change, how to adapt. I think that the most important tool I bring–and that I wish I had been better prepared to do–is observe, evaluate and adapt my practices in the classroom.

    How can you learn this at a high level, though? Not through a lecture. You learn it from practice. So if teachers are going to be better prepared to improve their practices they need to be better students. That is, as students, they need to learn how to evaluate their performances and improve them. So, in other words, it’s a big circle. We need better students if we’re going to have better teachers.

  14. Ditto to the idea of learning any skill at a “high level” in any other place but the trenches. I guess the exception to that might be having the mindset of a learner and a risk-taker.

    I think that understanding children is so important, too. Teachers that understand how powerful a child’s mind is, and show kids reverence for that, empower students of all ages to think instead of regurgitate. I think this understanding comes from a combination of things: spending time with kids, studying child development, and hearing first-hand accounts from teachers regaling the rich discussions they’ve had with the thinkers in their classrooms.

    I teach 2nd grade (and am having a particularly “challenging” year), so maybe I’m biased, but I think classroom discipline is so fundamental to teaching anything in the classroom. Having successful discipline stems back to the aforementioned understanding of who children are.

    Ugh. I just about deleted this whole thing because I can’t quite articulate what I want to say, but maybe if I put this up someone else will say it for me :)

  15. What kind of questioning pattern encourages deep processing.
    Those who say “nothing” see the teaching profession as “guess & test”. This view is not a characteristic of a profession & is a cop out.

  16. Oh & dan’s question asks what teachers need to learn at high-level, not what they have to have mastered. Developing the ability to “pull off” effective questioning takes years. Learning the importance & characteristics of such a pattern doesn’t take much time at all.

  17. Above all else, I think that teachers should know and understand their subject-area to a very high level.

    This may not be as big of an issue at the high school level — or maybe it is — but as a middle school teacher, I find A LOT of teachers that do not know their subject-area to a level of expertise. I find this to be especially true of mathematics teachers. Why? Because if you are certified to teach mathematics instead of, say, Social Studies, your chances of getting a job are greatly improved.

    What is the solution? Do we require math teachers to have a degree in math? I’m not sure that’s the solution. I know many math teachers that have degrees in engineering, physics, etc. — myself included — that are more than qualified to teach the subject. But there does need to be some point in which future-teachers are deemed experts in their field. And I don’t think another standardized test is the answer — as is clearly evident by current certification practices.

    Beyond that, I think that future-teachers should be taught HOW to teach effectively. I think that education programs across the country focus too heavily on theory over practice. If not directly taught how to teach effectively, then our professors should at least model effective teaching. Seriously, how many people have sat in a LECTURE about constructivism? It doesn’t get much more ironic than that. And if professors actually taught in a constructivist manner, then maybe they’d see what a bunch of bologna it really is — another problem solved.

  18. Theater. I can’t describe how beneficial it has been to have several years of stage experience (including improv) on hand to help my presentation. More teachers need this.

  19. @ ben, you are absolutely right, methods profs should model effective instruction. everyone in a dept of ed ought to be an exceptional teacher. What they would find out is how difficult teaching informed by constructivism is. If you think it’s bologna, you just haven’t seen it done well.

  20. Loving and caring for kids. I look back at everything I learned as a camp counselor and it has served me well in the classroom the whole time.

  21. Classroom management.

    Before you can do any “cool” activities you have to have the basic functions of a classroom operating at a high level.

    Stuff I wish I knew the first day-

    1. Have things for students to start before the bell rings.

    2. Have a reasonable discipline plan, focusing on limiting “inappropriate talking” and legitimate consequences.

    3. Using objectives- Taking the curriculum guide and making overall objectives for each day, that guides the stuff you want to teach and then answering those objectives as a group.

  22. I agree with Jerrid (15 & 16) that effective questioning is one of the hardest and most effective skills that teachers should learn. I’ve been working on breaking myself of asking “teacher questions” for the last couple of years, and I still catch myself asking my class, “So, since these two angles are congruent, that means I can set their measures equal to each other, right?” **sigh**

    I’m getting better, though — honest! One of the best books I’ve ever read on effective questioning techniques is Every Minute Counts: Making Your Math Class Work by David Johnson.

  23. Bad prompt…the “high level” piece ruins it, as does the overly ed schooly “core practice”. How about: “What habit of mind (blatant theft from Sizer, et al) is most important to nurture, develop, and recruit for in new teachers before they enter the classroom for the first time?”

    If that’s the question, then I agree with many other posters that reflection (and the accompanying ability to adapt based on the reflection) is the first among equals…reflection alone won’t get it done, but if you’re awful at some other key things, at least you’ll realize it and either get better or get out.

  24. First, knowing when to be quiet. Silence is good for waiting for students to give answers, and not putting your foot in your mouth when administrators tell you their dumb ideas. I’ve only mastered the first half of this advice.

    Knowing the culture of where you are teaching is another core skill. My wife has taught classes where “I’ll call your parents” is an empty threat because the grandmother is raising the kids.

    In public schools today, a teacher should know mixed martial arts and teaching to the test. Sadly, I’m only half kidding with those.

    Honestly, I’m with gasstationwithoutpumps in that the question is not well posed. Not knowing the professor, I can’t tell if he or she is looking for a list of platitudes or is asking a trick question. Please, let us know your answer.

  25. How to watch videos of other teachers teaching, and comment constructively (both good and bad) on them.

    The reasons:
    1.) It will expose teachers to a variety of teaching styles – and hopefully show that there are many that work well
    2.) It will show a variety of responses to various situations – and hopefully give ideas for some strategies (like we learn from reading blogs or talking with colleagues)
    3.) It will make the teacher-in-training aware of what goes on in a real teaching environment, instead of what’s in books.

    I just made this idea up now. So I don’t know if it would REALLY be good. But watching a lot of real teachers teach. And talking about it informally in an loosely structured environment.

    (Basically, another way to think of it: it puts lots of tools in the toolkit of new teachers… for when they get in the classroom themselves. I can imagine a moment like: “Oh, I remember that one teacher was having trouble with that one student, but she took him aside and talked to him about how she felt she was failing him… He responded well to that. I wonder if that would work for me and this kid.”

    Wait, I re-read the prompt and I guess I don’t think this fits. But who the heck knows what a “core practice” is anyway. Ah, grad school. Enjoy!


  26. How to pause and count to 10

    As a teacher I think ive created more trouble for myself and stuffed up more situations in the classroom by jumping to conclusions and jumping in without thinking things through. Being able to wait things out, and give the kids more time to collect their thoughts, is often very advantageous.

    We often seem so pressed for time that we don’t think to pause and reflect.

  27. Okay, it’s not core practice, but if you’re going to teach in elementary, you must have taken a gr. 12 math.

    Here in Ontario, you can’t graduate HS without gr. 12 English and passing a Lit test, but you can opt out of math after gr. 9 or 10. You can then go on to attempt to teach math to little kids. And the gov’t wonders why the math scores don’t seem to be going up . . .

  28. I think the most basic core practice is creating a positive learning environment. It is not a singular practice; it involves a lot of sub-skills. You need to be in touch with yourself and with your students. You need to understand what they might be thinking and feeling, and when you need to help and when you need to wait and watch. You need to come across as genuine and sincere. You need to be encouraging and reassuring, but command respect and be able to control undesirable behavior. You need to project positive energy and frame issues in a positive way. You need to create the expectation that everyone can contribute and learn.

    You can’t learn to do this without actually working with students, and learning to use language to create the environment you want. And that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t take over a classroom without having actually worked with students and developed confidence. And the learning never ends.

  29. to laugh at oneself. If you can’t have a sense of humour about your foibles and failings then kids (esp high school) will eat you alive. I guarantee you they will laugh at you so why not preempt them.

  30. To fake it til’ you make it. I think the first weeks/months of teaching are very nerve-wrecking for many teachers who doubt their own ability in many aspects of teaching. It’s imperative that teachers are still able to act confidently and assertively in the face of unforeseen academic and social issues with students.
    I think this could be taught by role-playing exercises during teacher training.

  31. Cheating with two ideas. Learn how to learn 30 names in 50 minutes – it’s your number one behaviour management tool!

  32. Reflectiveness.

    How to use it to evaluate and improve one’s own practice – because you probably aren’t going to get much feedback from anyone else.


    How to teach it to kids, so that they can look back on their learning and see it through their own lens, instead of mine.

  33. Classroom management, as mentioned by a couple of others as well….

    Yeah, you need to know if you like and/or relate to kids in general. Good first step.

    But also, you need to be able to manage them in a group. You need to be able to create authority (be it benevolent or otherwise) that the kids respect. If you can’t get students to work with and for you, then no lessons you present, no matter how student-centered, will create any learning.

  34. Teachers should have a strong grasp of the content (and related processes) that they will teach, and be intentional about the specific learning goals and outcomes related to that content and related processes. Then translating these goals and objectives into (again, intentional) learning activities is key.

    Some call this process lesson planning, but it is so much more than filling in the blanks on a lesson plan template.

  35. I’m intrigued by how many of these comments regard teaching in general, rather than teaching mathematics. Then again, the prompt did not refer specifically to mathematics teachers and perhaps my expectations have been skewed by the context of your blog. Furthermore, I am conscious that the majority of the comments refer more to what I would call disposition (Caring, patience, open-mindedness) than core practice. (Is there a true distinction, or am I imagining that?)

    I would agree, that the foundation of good teaching lies in the disposition of the teacher, however to focus solely on that belies the complexity of everything that comes after. Furthermore, it perpetuates the notion that teachers are born rather than made and that there is nothing we can do to improve upon what is already innate. I believe that disposition is also important to doctors, but I would never suggest that someone who really cares about patients and has patience and other virtues should be allowed to learn the practical skills of medicine on the job.

    The complexity of the classroom experience requires that a teacher be proficient in a number of ‘core practices’. I would agree with previous posters (c.f. Jarrid and Sharon) that assessment, reflection and effective questioning are core practices. I would add problem posing to this list. As you exemplify, a teacher must be able to imagine and phrase problems for their students to solve that are relevant, purposeful and engaging, but also push students to extend their current understanding of mathematics. (Assuming, of course, that a teacher is able to engage in formative assessment to ascertain a students existing understanding of mathematics.)

    This requires, but not exclusively, a flexible knowledge of content. A teacher must examine a context or problem and be able to imagine where it could go and what mathematics might emerge for students–both as a classroom community and as individuals. This is not taught in most math classes required of a secondary preservice teacher. A teacher must also be able to carefully plan a lesson around that problem so that there is a high probability that students who encounter mathematics (both intended and not) will have a venue for reflection on that mathematics and relating that encounter to others, including yourself.

    Just my two cents. I am enjoying reading the comments as they come in.

  36. Has anyone seen the train wreck that is now showing on the A&E network of Tony Danza in the classroom? Called “Teach”, it’s a reality excursion the purpose of which I can only guess. But passion, caring, energy and instinct DO NOT make a good teacher and they should not be mistaken for the primary practice one should bring to the classroom. If by practice we mean an approach to the task, then it should be professionalism, or a professional attitude to the task of facilitating learning. Notice I did not say ‘teaching’, because learning is an active verb that belongs to the student.
    What is lacking in the discussions is the fact that education is a profession, for serious, committed practitioners, NOT for well-meaning, enthusiastic amatuers who believe, “I’ve been to school, I passed, so I know what teachers do.”
    If that were the case, then I plan on taking the state medical licensing exam because I’ve been to the doctor and I know what they do.

  37. One core practice I believe teachers should be required to learn at a very high level is the practice of seeing things through another person’s point of view. This practice seeing through someone else’s point of view only occurs when we are not self-centered and genuinely desire to know other people and communicate with them. As a teacher, it would mean we would lean towards student-centered means of teaching. In this way we could lead our students from wherever they are to wherever they need to go.

    I did not learn this practice at a particularly high level and am still in the process of learning it after 16 years of teaching. It requires that we really know our students and use that knowledge to communicate in a modality that they understand.

    I am reading blogs, using twitter, and trying to decipher facebook today for that very reason.

  38. Highly recommend you check a film I was very lucky to recently watch at the Vancouver International Film Festival and engage in a discussion with the director after the screening.

    The film is “Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden” and it explores the premise of education as an universal progressive force by trying to understand if it benefits indigenous groups who lived a sustainable live before missionaries and aid workers came in to import a Western education system there and “help” them get a chance to join the rest of the world. You can check out the film site and its trailer at

    I was highly disturbed by the movie as I saw some of the questions asked in it applicable to many more communities than what indigenous sustainable groups would suggest! The most disturbing part is that it made me question if education is indeed such a progressive force, is it truly value-neutral as we’re led to believe, is there a set of universals that define a baseline that should be expected to work almost everywhere in the world?

    I like to believe basic literacy, math and science are those universals, but even the first of these is open for debate as we need to ask “literacy in which language?” so I fear there may be similar weak points with the rest too. :-(

    I am hopeful we can find the answer, but it may take some debate and soul searching before we reach there.

    Btw, I filmed the Q&A with the director (quite a few teachers and students getting ready to take on teaching jobs asked interesting questions) and posted it on Youtube at

    I also put some of my troubling thoughts at



  39. Learn to be a reflective practitioner, i.e. being willing and able to do something, think about it constructively afterwards and change accordingly.

  40. Requirements to enter teaching:

    1. Follow a student around for at least a week and sit in the same desks they have to for 45-90 minutes at a time.

    2. Work in the service industry for 1 year waiting on tables, being a cashier or whatever, until you come to the understanding that no matter what you do, you will never be able to please everyone all the time.

    3. Perform a set at a local comedy store and see how you do dealing with hecklers. If you can’t shut ’em down or win ’em over, stay out of the classroom.

    But if I had to boil it down to one thing it would be to have such a command of your content that you can identify the path on which a student is walking and carefully lay out the stepping stones (in the form of questions) that gradually help them find their way. All the while understanding that their way doesn’t necessarily mean your way.

  41. The ability to listen to a learner explain how they solved a problem and to think about the problem from the learner’s perspective.

  42. I got this while in the Marines: overcome, adapt, improvise and be able to stare down fear. These are the most useful tools I have used in 28 years of teaching. Everything else is gravy.

  43. This really is a great question and I am so amazed at the amount, range and depth of the posts. I am not even sure if anyone brought this up yet in the post. I stopped reading due to being anxious to post my own thoughts.
    I think ability to change is the one skill you need to have at a high level. Until I started working, I thought it was something that people knew how to do and did on a regular basis. I have realized it is not a typical skill but it is a skill which means it can be learned. The challenge is it is a skill you learn through experience and guidance as you experience. Change is work but I think it has the greatest impact on a teacher.

  44. Learn how to respectfully, non-confrontationally say “no” to a student and then follow through.
    Learn to help students realize that they make the decision about their own behavior. I’m not “giving” you a referral, you decided to get it through your actions. It was your decision — I told you the rules and what would happen if you didn’t follow them. You decided it was worth it. And, btw, the “rules” are always phrased positively, “do this” not “don’t do this”.
    Stay calm and don’t take anything personally (even if it’s intended as such).

  45. This question actually threw me for awhile because I got caught up in “does he mean the ideal classroom or present-day classroom”, which is the popular way to say that testing is stifling creativity.

    But the content really shouldn’t matter, and the assessment is only one thing (although I don’t like it), so it comes back to the “core practice”. And I don’t agree that “very high level” ruins the question.

    It’s pretty simple really. The core practice that every teacher must have at a very high level is the ability to be flexibly self-aware. Teachers need to realize that:

    A: They are each independently super important.
    B: They are their own best sources of evaluation based on experiences that take place in the classroom.
    C: They exhude confidence and high standards that students will pick on and run with if consistantly applied.
    D: What is important is a subjective evaluation of a person’s well-being, and that teachers need to be confident enough that they are doing the right thing.

    and finally,

    E: all of the above impacts hundreds of students a year, and must be made entirely flexible. Again, the teacher must be self-aware enough to trust the need for change, accept its goodness, or change it again.

    Nothing prepares you for the classroom, so all that other credential program stuff might be nice, but it can prepare you at all to face kids. I read a lot of answers previous that answer a piece of the puzzle, but leave lots to be desired otherwise. Classroom management is necessary, but I’m a firm believer that classroom management can’t be taught effectively outside of a real classroom, period. Every teacher learns best by doing and some of the doing will be hard. It’s the confidence and the willingness to change that really matters.

    BTW, being strong in content is good, but regardless of the message sent by high end testing, it is far from the most important thing. Knowing everything about American Government doesn’t make you a great teacher, it makes you a history book. Many instructors will have had over a year’s break in their subject matter between college and a permanent job. Most that is needed to teach students (even AP students) can be self-taught.

  46. I’m going to cheat like a lot of people.

    Learning that sometimes you just have to laugh at them, them being the students. It can be a great stress reliever and lets the students know you’re human.

    When to pause and give the proper wait time for the students brains to process a question. I know I used to panic when someone didn’t blurt out an answer immediately. Now if I’m asking for popcorn answers I tell the bright quick students to count to 5 or 10 before blurting out the answers to give everyone else a chance to think.

    And also, to those that say they should have to learn Classroom Management I’m in disagreement there. You can learn all about the different techniques but from what I’ve seen that will just make the learner anxious about getting their own classroom. Everyone approaches classroom management a different way and different approaches are best for different people and students. That’s something that no one learns until they get in the trenches and get to interact with the students.

  47. Jeez! ONE thing? Classroom managment was my weakness when I started–really had to focus on it first off to set up the rest of the year. But the trick that seems to meld the art and the science of teaching for me has been to forget to be afraid. you don’t have to be cool, you don’t have to be their friend, you don’t have to know everything. You DO have to want to be with them and learn with them. The best moments still come when I forget what I’m wearing, or how long ago I ate, or if I am on schedule. Feel the kids. The rest will work.

  48. Some great responses here. I’ll just add a few of my thoughts…

    I live in Sydney Australia and started teaching high school maths at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately I quickly discovered my university studies of Bachelor of Science (Pure Maths) and Bachelor of Education, though required to teach in NSW, were largely irrelevant to teaching high school maths. Only a handful of subjects such as maths method (a course solely based around instruction in high school maths), and classroom management were of use to me. Even practicum’s were nothing compared to having your own class; as you were assessed according to the supervisors perceptions on teaching style (who in this case were very different from my own).

    I love all the comments above about spending time with children to be able to relate to them; I couldn’t agree more!
    I think having the students respect makes a real difference to the response you get in the classroom.

    If there was one other thing that I think teachers need to be taught, it would be to try new things. That it is ok to fail sometimes. As I tell my students, the best way to learn something is to get it wrong.

    Love the blog Dan; keep up the good work.

  49. per Erica McWilliams – how to be usefully ignorant…knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

    students need us to model sophisticated, transparent, learning.

  50. I would say the most important thing to learn is what one of my teaching supervisors once told me was the most difficult thing: “not answering your own questions.” In other words, give the student some time to think.

  51. Teachers must learn how to listen, and engage with each student for who they are and where they are in each moment. Being open to the situation instead of grabbing on to their idea of how the class has to go and how the students have to be and learn. Nonviolent Communication is a sometimes-maddeningly-explicit way to learn this, but having learned it you can streamline it for ordinary non-crisis life.

    I’m a barely-trained volunteer teaching English to high school kids in Chile, and my relationships with the kids are the only thing that makes it work. I just don’t have the lesson-making skills, and their educational culture is so broken, to be able to rely on fascinating lesson structure. It ends up being completely about me and them, in this project together.

  52. To self critique. I’m a new teacher and I try to have one concrete take-away from each week. I chew on it a little over the weekend and try to improve that one thing the next week. If I tried to fix all the things I’m doing wrong at the same time, I would be overwhelmed.

  53. I’ll cheat and mentioned three things:

    1. Training directed to end the insanity of every teacher reinventing the wheel for themselves.

    2. Practical training about how to have success with struggling (and certainly special ed) students in my discipline.

    3. Some guidance (maybe case-studies?) about how to use assessments to drive future teaching.


  54. Effective checks for understanding. Strategies for large-group, small-group, individual.

    Reading your stuff I know that you won’t, but please, please don’t even mention ‘liking,’ ‘caring,’ ‘loving,’ or especially ‘relating’ to the kids.

    The best way to do this is to become a skilled practitioner.

  55. 1. All personse learn differently. Fair != Same.

    2. Life is a lesson.

    3. As a teacher of developers, I need to understand that teaching, coaching, and mentoring are the platform for success.

  56. Pre-service (math) teachers need to practice and master error analysis of student work. They need to be able to look at student’s written or spoken solutions to problems, make inferences about the state of a students (mis)understanding, and suggest future lessons or interventions that might improve that student’s next performance. This is something that can be practiced without needing to have been in the classroom trenches, and is invaluable for strategically planning lessons.

  57. Whatever you are teaching, you need to learn how to learn. If you are not continually putting yourself in a situation where you don’t know something or can’t do something or are having to struggle to understand concepts just beyond your reach, then you are never going to be able to adjust your communications with your students to help them, or even empathize with them.
    Don’t pretend you know something or understand something about your subject when you don’t.

    “What should every new teacher should be required to learn at a very high level…?” everything they can about themselves and their weaknesses as human beings, about being honest and having integrity – everything else follows from that.

  58. I co sign what @Joe, @Lynn, @blaw003, @Chris Hartmann and @Chris D shared about listening.

    I teach young adults in anthro, racism and music and after 16 years, I realize it is LISTENING from a beginner’s mind, Listening for the gold around a failure, listening for greatness in the smallest comment and allowing yourself to ENGAGE with how they see things and what you as someone more versed in the automaticity of thinking in that subject can NO LONGER see or sense except through your students. It is the so called weakest students who bring the greatest insights if you’ll really listen and listen in a public way to allow everyone in the room to get why certain ppl get things and certain ppl don’t. It’s not personal. It’s cultural, it’s conditioning and if you were standing in their shoes you’d see or not see, think or not think, solve or not solve for the same things.

  59. I’d go with the ability to separate your emotional health from your critical self-reflection. If you aren’t chuckling at how much you suck then teaching is going to be really brutal. Recognize going in that 99% of what you try will need tweaking at best and to be thrown on the funeral pyre of other well-intentioned instructional practices that the field is so good at maintaining at worst.

  60. Any beginning teacher must have the ability to formatively assess their students for a variety of reasons. First, teachers will not know when and if students are struggling if the teachers leaves assessment as the last step. Ongoing assessment of science and math skills are the only way to capture the individualized way that each student learns. Regardless of the individual learning styles of students the teacher must be able to formulate the pathway for the students. Also, in order to arrange pedagogy in a manner that is open to inquiry among learners, the facilitator must be able to grab the concepts that the students are striving for and assessment as they are being accomplished. The learner needs to receive instant feedback, either to redirect with added assistance when they struggle or to give them a tangible accomplishment when they have succeeded.

  61. I think the most important thing is to not take yourself too seriously… take your job seriously but not yourself. This allows you to be more open to change, and also puts you in a better place to center the class around the students and not the teacher. It also allows you to stay calm when students are disrespectuful. But this is not something that lends itself to ‘learning’ before entering a class…

    …so I think they should learn how to look at a piece of material from the text, and then make engaging lesson plans from it.

  62. I’m a little surprised by the prompt and also by the responses. As if this question…

    What is a core practice relating to golf that every new golfer should be required to learn at a very high level before entering the PGA?

    or this one…

    What is a core practice relating to law that every new litigator should be required to learn at a very high level before entering the courtroom?

    or this one…

    What is a core practice relating to surgery that every new doctor should be required to learn at a very high level before performing surgery?

    …could ever be answered with “a” core practice. There are tens, if not well over a hundred, of practices that every new teacher should be required to learn at a very high level.

    Let’s suppose that we all view the profession of teaching to be as important as performing knee surgery. The list of core practices that a doctor must learn at a very high level is ridiculously long, almost as long as the road traveled to earn her MD. Between undergrad and medical school and residency and so on. It is no surprise, given the ease with which a teaching certificate is granted, that the work we do in the classroom is not viewed in the same regard as the work a lawyer or a surgeon does.

    I know much is said about the state of education in America. And more than most people I commend the work we all do in the classroom, regardless of our current skill set. But to boil it down to one core practice, or even a few core practices, continues to diminish the role we play and the importance of our task.

  63. Alex: But to boil it down to one core practice, or even a few core practices, continues to diminish the role we play and the importance of our task.

    First, the prompt asks for “a core practice” of good teaching, not “the only core practice” of good teaching.

    Second, if we mustn’t allow ourselves to examine the component practices of good teaching, how do you propose we teach teachers?

  64. Crazy thread, BTW. Awesome work. I’m just going to copy and paste this sucker into a Word document, put my name at the top, and call it a day.

  65. Dan, you’re right. It doesn’t ask for the only core practice. And I thought about that when I was posting. I almost included mentioning that I would have bet that your intentions were to gather a collective list of core practices from people whom you respect as educators.

    My post is twofold. First, every core practice is not only important but should be learned before entering the classroom as a teacher. I mean seriously, can you imagine the quality of teachers we’d have if each was required to demonstrate mastery (by the completion of their teacher prep program) of the “core practices of a successful teacher”?

    And secondly, I love our profession and value it no less than any other. Just last night we were with some friends, one of whom is earning $400 per class to complete someone ELSE’S online work for earning a teaching credential. I have a daughter, and I rest assuredly knowing that the pediatrician we take her to see completed her MD work on her own. Unfortunately I won’t have that comfort when she starts school.

  66. Remember that these kids are … kids!

    I’m continually amazed by my colleagues who are so surprised when their students do something stupid or act immaturely. Or by teachers who expect their students to sit perfectly quiet and still for 50 minutes when they themselves can’t do the same for 10.

    The one-liner that I use with my student teachers is that school is not about teaching, it’s about learning.

  67. Kathy Clark Couey

    October 17, 2010 - 2:48 pm -

    Regardless of the quality of the prompt, I wish I had finished my program having a darn clue about ENGAGEMENT. Things like WCYDWT, anything to wake them up, and get their blood moving. Because I teach a topic I love (science!) I thought it was inherently engaging becasue it was for me. Da, not so with a big fraction of my 8th graders, but get this, they played “Substomic Particle Tic-Tac-Toe” without complaint and they knew the charge, location, and significance of each when they were done. It took me 6 months to learn this lesson. Hard to say if someone could learn it outside the classroom.

  68. Leslie Forsyth-Eno

    October 17, 2010 - 8:08 pm -

    I agree with the idea of getting in and getting your feet wet to learn, as long as you have a responsible mentor to help guide when needed. I also agree with the up front acceptance of the fact that evolving your teaching practice is hard work that actually often goes into the weekend, although I know that theoretically balance is supposed to be key. One thing, though that younger teachers, or childfree teachers need is knowledge of how today’s family really works outside of school. If they knew they might not be so quick to pile on homework, reading, projects, and also blithely assume that parents, can or will help. Students with 2 parents that work and siblings, or that have a single parent, will not have happy, healthy, rested parents to pitch in at night to guide. Parents also want their children to have a variety of life experiences to figure out a direction that interests them. Students cannot do this if they are swamped with hours of nightly homework. Alfie Kohn is is my hero (can’t you tell?!)

  69. I know I am getting in a bit late into the discussion… I think a core part of every education curriculum at any college preparing future teachers is Acting 101. This will help with obvious things like projecting your voice, but when it comes down to it, a lot of teacahing is manipulation. I want you to learn this because I (or the state) thinks it is important for you to learn. There are times when we need to act certain ways to certain students to get an appropriate response.

    On a side note, Last week, I started getting sick on Monday. My students notice until Thursday when I lost my voice, because I was acting normal during my classes even though I was exhausted.

  70. I totally agree with Jerrid Kruse. Your students are not guinea pigs. Do your research and know what to do before you walk into the classroom and start to teach.

    I think teachers should be able to reply to the question “why do we have to learn this?” with an incredibly compelling answer. In a word: relevance. Every teacher should be able to articulate why their content is critically important to students’ lives now.

  71. A key core practice? Is there any practice of a teacher more key than understanding the power of asking good questions? I believe the heart of teaching is questioning. What makes for a good question? When do we ask them? What do we look for? How can we use students’ answers to our question to pull in the rest of the class? I think young teachers should walk away with a vision that the most powerful tool at their disposal is not a smartboard, new calculators, or set of clickers, but questions that peak student curiosity and intellect.

  72. 85 replies, and only one person mentioned relationships. There is nothing more important than the ability to develop relationships with your students and classes. With solid relationships, everything like classroom management falls into place. They’ll trust you, be more willing to cut you slack when a crazy lesson idea is flopping, and be more likely to work hard for you. Dan throws out some darn good ideas on this blog. I suspect that more than one teacher has taken the ideas from this blog, tried some, failed, and blamed Dan for his “crazy hippie teaching methods”. I’ve seen teachers who fail to develop good relationships with their students learn a new process (say cooperative learning), and try it, and then fail. They will then conclude that the practice is flawed, but the truth is that they didn’t have the proper relationship with their class to make it succeed.

  73. Ok I admit I didn’t read all the comments yet. I might at a later date because you guys are pretty smart, but I do have a thought I want to share.

    I think every student teacher should learn how to do quality research in the classroom.

    I’ve been reading “Honoring Diverse Teaching Styles”, by Edward Pajak and it turns out that I am the type of teacher who likes to experiment and use what works for me in my classroom. So perhaps this is just what is most important for me in the classroom. There is the distinct possibility that what I feel is most important is actually not what is most important for a person who has a different “dialect” or personality type.

  74. @Brendan, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, who is a total rockstar, would agree. She talks about a preservice teacher’s ability to “learn in and from practice.” She’d take someone who could learn from his mistakes and research his practice over someone who had a stronger grasp of the core mechanics and core knowledge of teaching.

    @Adam, not for nothing, I wrote my essay on “problem posing.”

  75. I have to be honest. I am not a teacher–yet! But I am in a program and will soon graduate! I have spent many days as an intern in various schools. The comments on this page are very interesting and helpful. I love hearing what real teachers have to say.

    From the little experience that I have, I will try to put in my two cents. I would say it is hard to choose something specific. While I believe you learn a lot in teaching programs, I strongly believe that you learn the important ‘core skills’ while being a teacher. I think we can learn a lot from books and university classes, but the impacting lessons are learned through actual experiences and interaction with the kids and the other teachers. However, if I absolutely had to pick something, I would think one of the biggest skills you should have is to not walk into a classroom with preconceived notions of children and their culture. Classrooms are becoming more and more diverse and we have to be open-minded, understanding, and fair. As teachers and role models, if we want kids to learn to be open and inviting to other cultures, we need to be as well.

  76. Much of my teaching attitude comes for a Science Methods course, taught by a gentleman with 27 years experience:

    When a student is looking at a water drop under a microscope and sees a paramecium, exclaim loudly “Wow– look at that! :-)” even when thinking “oh boy, another paramecium… :(”

    Trying to show excitement on something you have done for years is very tough, but it will rub off.

    Secondly- Humility is also required. The ability to ask a question, and wait 2-5 minutes for an answer. If you watch most teacher, they will wait 5-10 seconds, but feel they have waited 1-2 minutes.


  77. I assume we are talking about math teaching. In this case:


    This requires organizing “smart” example spaces out of wild&wonderful stuff kids make. The skill is topic-specific to some degree, maybe even problem-specific. For example, noticing patterns in river-crossing problems is different from noticing patterns in the decimal extension of 2/7. The skill also assumes active listening, and understanding children’s algorithms, definitions and theorems which aren’t standard OR expressed in standard notation.

  78. You have to be able to tell “your story.” Without being able to tell your story honestly, your students will never connect to you. Students that have no value in you as a teacher, have no value in what you are teaching. …IMHO.

  79. Clarity of purpose: the ability to decide what not to teach, what not to respond to, what not to address.

    I am overwhelmed with messages from my department about this or that event, this or that social need, this or that assembly coming up. Every faculty meeting brings up targeted content areas, or focii that, by next spring, will have drifted off like dandelion seeds.

    Another way: You have one month to visit all of Europe. Where will you visit? What will you attend to? And the harder question: where won’t you visit? And why?