Most Likely to Succeed? Is it possible to predict & hire great teachers?

Most Likely to Succeed

How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?

by Malcolm Gladwell December 15, 2008

Effective teachers have a gift for noticing—what one researcher calls “withitness.”

I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s writing and more so his curiosity and how he "thinks different".  I try to read as many of his columns as I can as they find a sweet spot for me of being long enough to explore a topic in some depth and let him tell a good story, yet be short enough that I can read them in one sitting along with the many other articles and posts I’m reading each day.

This New Yorker article focuses on the very tricky art of hiring practices, especially for teachers and exposes a lot of common myths about hiring and spotting of true talent for a given job or task.

You’ll need to make it through his initial telling of the challenge in American football he refers to as "the quarterback problem" before you will get to his comparison and coverage of the importance and challenge of how to choose good to great teachers.  However it is well worth your time and I highly recommend reading the full article and see what you think and take away.

 Effective teachers have a gift for noticing—
 what one researcher calls “withitness.”

via www.newyorker.com             Read more

At the risk of spoiling the story for you, Malcolm makes that point that effective hiring practice for complex and critical roles such as teachers takes years and requires observation of the results achieved over this time.  This would suggest an apprenticeship type model and a radical shift from the way we currently recruit, reward and retain great teachers.  To be effective we need to treat each teacher as a unique individual and hire at this same level of uniqueness; one at a time.

Many would therefore probably place this into the "impossible" category but as you can likely guess I’ll add it to my "What if the impossible isn’t?" list.  And indeed Malcolm goes on to describe at least one example, financial planners, where this is both possible and being practiced.  For me this is yet another example of why we need to treat each situation, each job and each person as a unique individual.  Hence I see this, no doubt through my frosted glasses, as another excellent example of why The Snowflake Effect is so important and how it is affecting almost everything in our world.

Here are some of Malcolm’s points which really got my attention:

"with enough data, it is possible to identify who the very good teachers are and who the very poor teachers are. What’s more—and this is the finding that has galvanized the educational world—the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast."

"Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects.""After years of worrying about issues like school funding levels, class size, and curriculum design, many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there’s a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like.""Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications—as much as they appear related to teaching prowess—turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans."

"The equivalent of that approach, in the N.F.L., would be for a team to give up trying to figure out who the “best” college quarterback is, and, instead, try out three or four “good” candidates.
 In teaching, the implications are even more profound. They suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before. That means that the profession needs to start the equivalent of Ed Deutschlander’s training camp. It needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated."

"What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?"

I hope you will take the time to not only ready this article but to reflect upon it and contribute your reactions and ideas.  Is it possible to hire and retain great teachers?  Is it possible to raise the quality of teaching staff overall?  Would this "apprenticeship" type of model work for the teaching profession?

I think my favorite quote from Malcolm’s article is:

"A prediction, in a field where prediction is not possible, is no more than a prejudice."

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