New book on teacher preparation features the Michigan approach

Schools across the state will be starting a new school year in less than a month, but there’s been no further legislative action on the adoption of a statewide teacher and administrator evaluation system. And the MEAP will still be used this school year since no new statewide student assessment has been chosen that will measure student growth—a measurement that will impact teacher and administrator evaluations.

081114buildingabetterteacher-bookcoverIn the midst of this uncertainty comes a new book by Elizabeth Green, editor-in-chief of the education news organization Chalkbeat, which challenges the idea that teachers are born, not made. “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach to Everyone)” puts the blame on education schools for not doing enough to prepare teachers for the students and classrooms of today. 

Green says, “We do know that teaching is an expertise that needs to be learned, even by the most brilliant person, and it’s a different kind of knowledge than just knowing a subject well.”

What she calls the “Michigan Approach” plays a major role in the book. Green gives high praise to Deborah Lowenstein Ball, dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education, for overhauling the teacher education program—especially when it comes to the teaching of math—at U of M. 

Ball is best known to MEA members as the chair of the Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness which created standards for effective statewide teacher and administrator evaluations. Those standards became the basis for HB 5223 and HB 5224. Ball has also been a presenter at MEA conferences on teacher evaluations and teacher effectiveness.

Ball shares Green’s idea that just having experience doesn’t necessarily make teachers better at their craft. “Teachers must develop basic skills, few of which come intuitively. Those skills include the ability to understand why students make the mistakes they do; the ability to assess the merits of a textbook or a curriculum for a particular class; the ability to communicate with parents; and more expertise in their subject than people outside education would guess.”

In her book, Green recommends a more practice-oriented approach to teacher education because she believes education schools are too far removed from what goes on in real classrooms. In her book, she spells out the specialized body of knowledge that a teacher must learn in order to be great and provides specific examples.

Maybe the book should be on the required back-to-school reading list for all education stakeholders. The book is available for $23.13.