Research shows good teaching makes a big difference in how much kids learn. But the United States lacks an effective system for training new teachers or helping them get better once they're on the job.
Research shows good teaching makes a big difference in how much kids learn. But the United States lacks an effective system for training new teachers or helping them get better once they’re on the job.
This documentary examines why, and asks what it would take to improve American teaching on a wide scale. We meet researchers who are trying to understand what makes teaching complex, and how to determine whether someone is ready to be a teacher.
We also visit U.S. schools that are taking a page from Japan and radically rethinking the way they approach the idea of teacher improvement.
An American way of teaching
In 1993, a group of researchers set out to do something that had never been done before. They would hire a videographer to travel across the United States and record a random sample of eighth-grade math classes. What they found revealed a lot about American teaching.
Rethinking teacher preparation
In the United States, teaching isn't treated as a profession that requires extensive training like law or medicine. Teaching is seen as something you can figure out on your own, if you have a natural gift for it. But looking for gifted people won't work to fill the nation's classrooms with teachers who know what they're doing.
A different approach to teacher learning: Lesson study
In the United States, we tend to think that improving education is about improving teachers - recruiting better ones, firing bad ones. But the Japanese think about improving teaching. It's a very different idea.
Thinking about math from someone else’s perspective
"What you do when you’re teaching is you think about other people’s thinking. You don’t think about your own thinking; you think what other people think. That’s really hard." -Deborah Ball
Correspondent and Lead Producer: Emily Hanford
Associate Producer: Suzanne Pekow
Editor: Catherine Winter
Executive Editor and Host: Stephen Smith
Digital Producer: Andy Kruse
Audio Mixing: Craig Thorson
Project Manager: Ellen Guettler
Director, APM Arts & Ideas: Peter Clowney
Interns: Ryan Katz, Minna Zhou, Emily Haavik
The American RadioWorks team includes Samara Freemark and Sasha Aslanian. Special thanks to the Hatcher Group and Kohnstamm Communications.
Support for "Teaching Teachers" comes from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Lumina Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Spencer Foundation. A note of disclosure: Deborah Ball is chair of the Spencer Foundation board and the Spencer Foundation has given money in the past to support research by Akihiko Takahashi. The foundation has no editorial influence on ARW's coverage.