Paul L. Caron

Monday, September 30, 2013

WSJ: Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Paper ChaseWall Street Journal, Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results:

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. ... Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as "drill and kill"—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. 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
  2. Drill, baby, drill
  3. Failure is an option
  4. Strict is better than nice
  5. Creativity can be learned
  6. Grit trumps talent
  7. Praise makes you weak…
  8. …while stress makes you strong.

At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students' ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

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I concur with much of what is stated in this article. While I believe collaborative groups and peer interaction are very positive ways to help students learn. I also believe that high expectations, accountability and discipline are essential in preparing our scholars for the rigor and competitiveness of today's society and workforce. No one is going to hold your hand and rules and boundaries are ways to help students establish discipline. This is how I teach my scholars. I'm strict, tough but yet loving and supportive all in one. I remind myself of a mother from the 70's being a mother to my many high school Algebra students.

Posted by: Ms. Roberts | Oct 15, 2013 7:54:07 PM

For me, the formula for an outstanding teacher is rigor + heart. Extremely demanding, but showing they personally want the students to succeed. It's how I teach.

Posted by: Ryan | Oct 3, 2013 8:36:09 PM

Most people extrapolate based on their own experiences. "If drill-and-kill worked to make my own tax career so successful, it must work for everyone else too." That's a logical fallacy.

Posted by: Reader | Oct 1, 2013 7:26:55 AM

Polemics of this sort obscure rather than clarify the issues. Yes, students want standards and challenge, but students also need support and caring. I don't think the author wants a drill instructor walking into a kindergarten saying, "All right you maggots, drop and give me twenty!" (At least I hope not.) And as to praise for a job well done - many people don't care, and it is in fact a counter-motivation for those who judge themselves by their own standards rather than others'.

Posted by: Marcopohlo | Oct 1, 2013 6:28:09 AM

The idea that computers and videos don't help is so contrary to my experience that I rather wonder if we're even talking about educating the same species.

I also don't think that strict and nice are incompatible.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 1, 2013 2:41:00 AM

This method works. I put some students through the research grinder one semester and got called Teacher Mephistopheles to my face. Water off this duck's back. The next semester, the same students were singing hosannas because TM's rigor had prepared them very well to do rigorous work in other classes. They had a leg up on the kids who hadn't had TM. I also walked out of a job where the chief administrator rejected the notion that "failure is an option". He wanted everyone to pass.

Posted by: Juba Doobai | Sep 30, 2013 9:15:06 PM

Interesting article, and I must say I agree with the points taken (and am glad you don't have that worthless education training/experience, because as a BA holder I know how hollow the higher education system is when giving out those scraps of paper).

Posted by: Heidi | Sep 30, 2013 6:48:17 PM

Eh as well. Students are individuals. A tough demanding teacher gets a couple of great successes and a ton of failures. Our problem is not tough teachers or easy teachers. It is trying to get a massive number of unsuccessful students on track to at least graduate with meaningful skills.

So, 1. go as slow as you need to insure success 2. tons of homework, hand written 3. Lots of tutoring style interaction 4. leave the computers and videos home - they don't help 5. The problem is boys - lots of rough and tumble recess - expect a rowdy behavior in class - teach to boys strengths - boys topics

Posted by: Keating Willcox | Sep 30, 2013 6:26:35 PM

I'm pretty skeptical of some of the specifics here, but there's a lot to be said for grilling students. All of my best teachers forced me to be superlative where I showed talent and refused to be impressed by promise.

Posted by: hitnrun | Sep 30, 2013 6:06:27 PM

Professor Gowder had better re-read the article. The author clearly distinguished the difference between praising performance ("not bad") and praising innate qualities. As for the author having no "education training," I suspect that is a saving virtue.

Posted by: Harwood | Sep 30, 2013 5:49:12 PM

Clearly such a traditional teacher will never succeed with the New and Improved Common Core. Heck we are even about helping student unlock their inner mathematician. So I have been told. I repeated that to my students and asked if it sounded creepy. They said only when I said it. But we math teachers have been told that if students talk about math they learn it better, and we must get them to talk math to each other. That is called "Structured student math talk.". We are also to be keenly aware of equity: does everybody get the chance to speak? Does everybody, whether they want to or not, contribute to class discussion? To not have everybody contributing is a failure of the teacher.

Posted by: Milwaukee | Sep 30, 2013 5:32:54 PM

I've been teaching college students exactly this way for 17 years. My collegues disagree with me, but none dispute the results. I tell them I will put my students up against theirs head to head in any competition of their one ever agrees. This method works.

Posted by: lewpubco | Sep 30, 2013 5:08:36 PM

Eh. Sympathetic with the overall stance, but this article lost me at item #7, where the author evidently couldn't discern the difference between praise for innate qualities (bad, per Dweck's research) and praise for performance---or, for that matter, scolding for either of those things, and generally totally missed the point of Dweck's work.

(Also, rather skeptical of a pedagogy book written by a journalist whose article bio reveals no education training or experience...)

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Sep 30, 2013 9:43:07 AM