200 Days in the Life of the College

Monday, October 4, 2010

It takes mistakes to make magic in the classroom

By Nick Stagliano ’11

Visiting Susan Mason’s Ethnography of Learning Environments class, Doug Lemov ’90 discusses his “Warm/Strict” technique, which suggests that in addition to being “no nonsense,” teachers must also be joyful in their approach to student behavior in order to succeed. “That’s something you learn as a parent,” says Lemov, who with his wife Lisa Hayes Lemov ’92 has three sons. “Great teachers don’t not have weaknesses, they just have really incredible strengths.”

Lemov graduated from Hamilton with plans of becoming a teacher. “I wanted to be the male version of Pat O’Neill,” he says. He taught at a public high school for several years before earning a master’s degree from Indiana University, where he decided that he “wanted to be a part of making education better.”

Lemov eventually began planning a system of high-performing charter schools, of which he is now managing director. There are now 24 of his Uncommon Schools throughout New York City, Boston and Upstate New York. In a few years, there will be 35 schools serving 30,000 students. The mission of Uncommon Schools, Lemov says, is “to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students.” One of the emphases of Uncommon Schools has been a system of teacher training begun by Lemov that led to his writing the New York Times bestseller Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.

“Everything you’ve done is really inspiring,” Nora Goddard ’11 tells Lemov during the class. He replies, “That’s only because I’ve gotten to tell it from retrospect, and I haven’t said anything about the mistakes I’ve made along the way. We all make a lot of mistakes, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is how quickly you pick yourself back up when you fall down.”