By ELIZABETH GREEN
Published: March 7, 2010
There are more than three million teachers in the United States, and Doug Lemov is trying to prove that he can teach them to be better.
When Doug Lemov, who is 42, set out to become a teacher of teachers, he was painfully aware of his own limitations. A large, shy man with a Doogie Howser face, he recalls how he limped through his first year in the classroom, at a private day school in Princeton, N.J. His heartfelt lesson plans — write in your journal while listening to music; analyze Beatles songs like poems — received blank stares. “I still remember thinking: Oh, my God. I still have 45 minutes left to go,” he told me recently. Things improved over time, but very slowly. At the Academy of the Pacific Rim, a Boston charter school he helped found, he was the dean of students, a job title that is school code for chief disciplinarian, and later principal. Lemov fit the bill physically — he’s 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds — but he struggled to get students to follow his directions on the first try.
After his disappointing visit to Syracuse, he decided to seek out the best teachers he could find — as defined partly by their students’ test scores — and learn from them. A self-described data geek, he went about this task methodically, collecting test-score results and demographic information from states around the country. He plotted each school’s poverty level on one axis and its performance on state tests on the other. Each chart had a few outliers blinking in the upper-right-hand corner — schools that managed to squeeze high performance out of the poorest students......
He broke those schools’ scores down by grade level and subject. If a school scored especially high on, say, sixth-grade English, he would track down the people who taught sixth graders English.
He called a wedding videographer he knew through a friend and asked him if he’d like to tag along on some school visits. Their first trip to North Star Academy, a charter school in Newark, turned into a five-year project to record teachers across the country. At first, Lemov financed the trip out of his consulting budget; later, Uncommon Schools paid for it. The odyssey produced a 357-page treatise known among its hundreds of underground fans as Lemov’s Taxonomy. (The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.”)