General Education

Mary Claire Magruder on Doug Lemov and Holding Teachers Accountable

Mary Claire Magruder on Doug Lemov and Holding Teachers Accountable
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Mary Claire Magruder February 8, 2019

Noodle Expert Mary Claire Magruder discusses the importance of good, old-fashioned sledding, why she feels personally responsible for her students' learning outcomes, and learning from the Common Core math curriculum.

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Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I would absolutely love to have Doug Lemov as an instructor for a year. When I first read “Teach Like a Champion” as a brand-new teacher, it completely transformed my practice. It is also a book I find myself coming back to again and again, even as I enter my fifth year in the classroom. I still have so much to learn, but over time (as my skill in other areas has improved and the teaching process becomes more automatic) I’ve been able to implement more and more of the techniques he suggests. There is always a way to be better, and one of the things I love about Lemov is that he sees the potential for development in all teachers; we are never finished learning to teach. I would love to pick his brain for a year (or more) and grow as an educator.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

In my second year of teaching, my principal told me, “Teaching causes learning.” It took me some time to figure out what this meant; but now I understand. You may have thought you were teaching — because you were doing teacher-y things! — but if students didn’t learn, you didn’t actually teach. What I love about this statement is that it places accountability for learning right where it belongs: with the teacher. Our students’ learning is not about the fire drill, what they ate for breakfast, their home life, or the amount of sleep they’ve had. It is 100 percent about the quality of your instruction. This is hard for many teachers to accept, but it is true.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

I would love for every single one of my students to see deep snow! A lot of my students (here in the south) have only seen an inch or two at the most. I think they would pass out from the sheer joy of rolling in a giant snowdrift. Every kid deserves a great (semi-life-threatening!) experience on a sled.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

I struggled with math starting in fifth grade, and by the time I reached college my mental block was severe. It was only once I started teaching Common Core math standards to my students that I really paused to reflect on where I had been tripped up: I didn’t deeply understand the “why” behind the tricks and algorithms I was taught when I was in elementary school. And the foundation I was taught — rote memorization of formulas — was not enough to sustain me in high-level math classes. As a teacher, I dive deeply into the “why” so that my first-graders can be successful even when they are taking advanced calculus courses at the university level.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Honestly, I am not sure I remember very well my reasons for starting Teach For America right out of college. However, I do know why I stay: because I know that every child deserves to have a teacher who holds them to the highest standard, who cares about them, and who sees the quality of children’s education as something for which they, as a teacher, are wholly responsible. I stay because I want to be someone who does not abdicate responsibility for my students’ data but, rather, owns that information as a direct reflection of my capability as a teacher. I stay because I want every child in my class to know that they are deeply powerful. I stay because I want my students to have grit instilled in them from a young age. What is different about this is that I never thought I would care as deeply about my students as I do. When I began teaching, I thought I cared more than anyone! But I have surprised myself with my continuing desire to own what is mine to own, and to overcome whatever is beyond my control. I aim to teach my students to do the same.


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