No, you are not cancelling Teach Like a Champion

Despite having understandable qualms about mob rule, I suspect few people shed a tear when a statue of Edward Colston, slave trader, was toppled from its plinth and unceremoniously dumped in the harbour in Bristol. But then, Winston Churchill’s statue in London was defaced and there are now suggestions that, among others, statues of Baden Powell and Sir Francis Drake are living on borrowed time.

And then it started with old British comedy shows. Few shed a tear, I suspect, over Little Britain and Come Fly With Me, with their overtly racist tropes. But eyebrows were raised at The Mighty Boosh and The League of Gentlemen.

I am not sure where this will end and I suspect a backlash is coming of some sort. All of which, sadly, will likely play into the hands of right-wing political parties and candidates.

Nevertheless, we are currently at the high watermark and as with all frenzies of this kind, some people have spotted the opportunity to settle a few scores.

Teach Like a Champion, and its expanded second edition, are books that many teachers have found extremely useful. Doug Lemov, the author, has spent a great deal of time observing effective teachers and, from this, has distilled and refined a number of highly effective strategies. This is not a randomised-controlled-trial (RCT) approach to research, it is more a mix of process-product research and ethnography. In other words, its the kind of research that university faculties of education probably should spend more time doing.

Lemov’s methodology has been particularly helpful lately. When my school made the shift to remote learning as a result of a COVID-19 lockdown in my state, it was Lemov’s blog that we visited to help figure out our program. There were no remote learning RCTs to draw on and really Lemov, and his detailed observations of remote teaching across his network, were all we had. Lemov had our backs and for that, I would like to take the opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude.

Anyone who’s been to a teacher education college and who picks up a copy of Teach Like a Champion, will immediately notice a contrast between Lemov’s specific and detailed observations and advice, and the kind of nonspecific ideological navel-gazing that constitutes much of the content of education courses. Lemov’s is a practical guide, written for teachers. It is not interested in condemning neoliberalism or quoting French philosophers, which often appear to be the means for advancement in the academy, it is interested in helping teachers to become more effective.

You can just imagine the resentment this generates among a subset of education professors. In years gone by, the only information trainee teachers would have access to about education would be carefully filtered by their institution. Now, through social media connections, teachers from opposite sides of the globe can communicate and recommend articles and books to each other – books such as Teach Like a Champion. I imagine a professor bristling as a student mentions Lemov’s name.

And so Ilana Horn, a maths education professor, decided that the time was right to attempt to cancel Teach Like a Champion:

Apparently, it is somehow racist:

Tell that to the teachers at Michaela Community School who have used Lemov’s techniques with extraordinary success, opening up exciting opportunities for Michaela’s diverse student population:

I am calling this behaviour out. I am not accepting this attempt to cancel Teach Like a Champion. I do not know how much attention people pay to negative reviews on Amazon and Goodreads – I suspect books like Teach Like a Champion achieve success via teachers recommending them to each other – but I am not going to stand by and watch someone instigate a petty campaign against a book they don’t like under the cover of activism. This is not activism.

If you have read Teach Like a Champion then please do as I have done and log on to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review explaining your thoughts. If you screenshot your review and send it to me on Twitter, I will retweet it to my followers. If you haven’t read it yet then please consider ordering a copy.

Let’s turn this cynical attack into raised awareness of Teach Like a Champion and a sales boon for Doug Lemov.

Update: It looks like Amazon may have suspended reviews. If so, head over to Goodreads and put a note in your diary to go back to Amazon in a week or so to post your review.


11 thoughts on “No, you are not cancelling Teach Like a Champion

  1. MIke says:

    “I am not sure where this will end and I suspect a backlash is coming of some sort. All of which, sadly, will likely play into the hands of right-wing political parties and candidates.”

    It has all gone utterly, irretrievably mental.

    Just consider what people only 10 years ago would have thought of an education professor describing a book whose only purpose is to promote effective pedagogy as “racist crap” promoting “carceral pedagogy”…and then encouraging people to adopt the infantile Amazon pile-on routine.

    And your comment about the likely backlash is all too true.

  2. Cait Sweeney says:

    Unfortunately, Greg, I followed the tweets in your post and then read the entirety of the replies and what has been posted since. Unbelievable. I’ve never seen such an expression of white privilege – from a professor at one of the most exclusive, gated universities in the world, daring to rail against a lowly teaching textbook that has made so many differences in the lives of underprivileged children. I sincerely doubt that there are many black children in her exclusive gated southern college. FFS. I am drowning in irony. I am lefty progressive as it gets in teaching and I look at this kind of nonsense and just wonder how we’ll actually be able to make some progress in teaching with this capital-W white noise interfering with good teaching work.

  3. Harriett says:

    I’ve just grabbed my copy from the bookshelf and reread Technique 38: The Art of the Sentence in light of Pamela Snow’s recent blog, “This is not a sentence”. Thanks for inspiring me to revisit these techniques. I will now reread them with racism in mind. But after more than three decades teaching disadvantaged multi-cultural students throughout the K-12 spectrum (that’s playdough to Plato), I suspect that I will come away with a reaffirmation that oftentimes racism can rear its ugly head through the “soft bigotry of low expectations”.

  4. Do you have any black teachers who support Teach Like a Champion. That’d be a good place to base your beliefs, I think. It’s hard as a white teacher, even an excellent white teacher who “loves all kids” to actually understand why TLAC might be problematic.

    In an unsurprising plot twist, it’s always easier to ask people with lived experiences rather than make a narrative fit what you want it to.

    • I do know black teachers who support TLAC, yes. I’ve even interviewed one for my podcast. However, I do not think this proves much. In fact, when they have voiced their support on Twitter, the response has been to the effect that they have internalised racism. That’s how unfalsifiable belief systems work.

  5. Lee says:

    How insulting to teachers that you think they just need practical hands-on guidebooks and aren’t capable or indeed tasked with pondering the broader philosophical messages their style and approach to children conveys?

    In the United States, education in schools centered on poor students has so prioritized “order” out of stereotyped fear of poor children, especially if they’re Black or Latino, that teachers frequently refuse to develop their own relationship developing approach to children and schools rely on a constant churn of plug-in plug-out of naive young people and burned out ineffective educators. To keep this churn manageable, they give teachers the most plug and play classroom management skills, but this whole system sends the message to students that the most important skill to learn in school is obedience to authority. For those that internalize the message, it does not set them up for good skills in college or in life, where self-advocacy and creative thinking are key. For much of the student population, the message is revolting and they will revolt, inevitably leading to them being kicked out of school and their educations damaged, all while the school with TLAC practices pretends their management works because they’ve only retained the most obedient students.

    • “How insulting to teachers that you think they just need practical hands-on guidebooks and aren’t capable or indeed tasked with pondering the broader philosophical messages their style and approach to children conveys?”

      I never claimed this and it is a false choice. Teachers are both capable of pondering broader philosophical questions *and* in need of practical advice.

      Your comment is high on rhetoric. However, what I am interested in is giving disadvantaged kids the best possible education without first having to fix endemic problems in society such as poverty. If you have a plan for that then let’s hear it.

      While you are thinking it over, you may want to listen to this:

  6. Jen says:

    I am curious to hear more about your refutal to the idea that TLAC promotes anti-Blackness. Do you see it as a useful tool to use when promoting anti-racism? Do you see it as a way that does not advance assimilation or attempts to fit all students into a white mold? I don’t necessarily have a side on this as I have never used or relied on TLAC, but I have read it and am curious to know more specific details that you may have on the concepts others have raised against it.

  7. Pingback: Target acquired | Filling the pail

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