In praise of tough teachers …

My students are likely to cringe at this post which kinda legitimizes my teaching style.

Uh-oh …


According to a recent WSJ article:

The latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine lead to a single, startling conclusion: 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.




Of course, that conclusion 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 explain why …


1. A little pain is good for you.

Research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess … indicates that top performers”deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”


2. Drill, baby, drill.

American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction — and few of them were made to memorize their times tables. The U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization.


3. Failure is an option.

Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better. The fear, of course is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem. Wrong again. Research suggests that educators need “not be as concerned about the negative effects” of picking winners and losers.


4. Strict is better than nice.

Researchers assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion.  Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. “The core belief of these teachers was, ‘Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it’s my job to do something about it — and I can do something about it'”.


5. Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children’s’ creativity. The bottom line from research studies is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. “You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline. Creativity is built on a foundation of learning the discipline.”


6. Grit trumps talent.

Grit — defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals — is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent. A “Grit Scale” that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like “I finish whatever I begin”, “I’m generally optimistic”  and “I become interested in new pursuits every few months.”  Grit has proven to be a better indicator of success than SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude..


7. Praise makes you weak…

Studies show that students praised for being “smart” became less confident. “The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash.”


8.…while stress makes you strong.

A moderate amount of stress on students promotes resilience. Dealing with even routine stresses makes students stronger and better able to learn.


The author concluders …

“individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence.

At their core is the faith  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.”


Source: Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Author: Joanne Lipman …. co-author of “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations”

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3 Responses to “In praise of tough teachers …”

  1. John Milnes Baker Says:

    All well stated but I’d like to add #9 – CURSIVE WRITING. Why? It’s so much more fluid, smooth and FASTER. One’s thoughts flow more quickly onto paper. As an architect I can probably letter (print) precisely and faster than the average person. I also learned to write cursive (script) all through grammar school. Here’s a test: In 60 seconds I can write in cursive “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back.” almost twice as fast as lettering.* I deplore the fact that cursive writing is considered “unnecessary” or “old fashion” in most grammar schools today. Every parent should Google “Cursive writing” and see what pops up. The benefits as clear – the drawbacks? None.
    I hound my grandchildren to only write to me in cursive – It may be working with my little ones – The three older ones don’t even have a proper signature! I wonder sometimes how many teenagers can even read script!
    PS I wish I could have written this in script to prove my point.

    * I was told in architecture school that “Machines print – people letter.”

  2. John Milnes Baker Says:

    OOPS! There’s something to be said about proofreading. In my last post I should have written. “The benefits ARE clear -” (Not “as” clear.) No doubt if I was writing in script I wouldn’t have goofed. But I should have proof read more carefully. Mea culpa!

  3. claudiabessette Says:

    As an educator, I’d say classroom discipline is the big issue.

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