Deborah Ball, Dean of the University of Michigan's School of Education, chairs the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE) which was tasked to make recommendations to the Legislature about teacher evaluation. As part of her testimony before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees, she took some time to make the point that the work of teaching is often misunderstood and harder than most non-educators imagine.

The example she gives comes from fourth grade mathematics - multiplying two two-digit numbers (4.NBT.B.5). First, the teacher must be competent in the content. For example, what is the product of 49 and 25?

From Dr. Ball:

Obviously one wouldn't want anyone teaching third or fourth grade who couldn't do that. But, in fact, what skilled teaching involves is responding when students don't understand the material...

Knowing the mathematics is not enough. Teaching requires more than simply marking students' answers right or wrong. To be effective, teachers must be able to diagnose students' misconceptions in order to provide the support necessary for students to develop mathematically. Dr. Ball provides three examples of possible errors teachers might encounter from students multiplying 49 and 25:

When she asks the legislators how the students might have arrived at these answers, ... watch for yourself (it starts at about 2:30).

When she asks the legislators how the students might have arrived at these answers, ... watch for yourself (it starts at about 2:30).

Dr. Ball does an effective job of pointing out that teaching is more than knowing and sharing content. However, this example focuses almost entirely on the "upper-half" of the Teaching-Learning Cycle: Assessment and Evaluation. Developing a plan for addressing the student-misconceptions and implementing that plan with a class of fourth graders raises the level of difficulty even higher. I hope these lawmakers now understand that there is more to teaching than what they experienced from the student-side of the desk.

Thanks so much for posting this. This will be helpful to administrators who are still trying to figure out what they are trying to learn about a teacher during an evaluation as well as the general population!

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