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Charlie A. Roy

We've had the debate about teaching credentials at our school. As a private school we can operate outside the state mandates but apparently this irritates a number of the staff who have spent the time earning the requisite certificates.

States can certainly do their part to encourage alternative certification programs that allow teachers to earn their credentials as they teach.

Principals can effectively weed out those better suited for other fields. Within my own staff a number of my most highly respected and requested teachers are those who have no formal educational training. There are those who have it who are exceptional as well and I don't mean to slight them. Had they never been let in the door because of a missing piece of paper a true injustice would have been done.

Let's embrace both by developing better alternative certification programs.


A software company for which I worked had rather a lot of applicants each time they advertised for a new position. How to find people worth interviewing? And was it possible to predict, before the interviews, who would make a good employee.

I came up with a solution that worked fairly well. But it wasn't perfect. I had people answer a series of questions about programming. The wasn't necessarily a right or wrong answer.

It was how they answered the questions that proved to be interesting and a good indicator of how good they were, never mind what their resume said.

Anonymous Frustrated Lawyer

Great piece as usual.

I particularly liked the section where the VA researchers dissected class room interaction.

Do those researchers show the footage to
1) the good teacher - so they can understand what they are doing is good
2) the bad teacher - so they can improve
3) people who were in education programs training to become teachers

It seems to me, that if you can really identify what's going on in that situation - why not teach those skills?

Otherwise you end up in the same "creaming" situation. Rather than actually educate, you just cream the people from the top who already get "it".

That's what we see in the sciences *and* the humanities.

"Let's focus on the top 10%, and forget about the bottom 90%."

"Let's hope that bottom 90% has the luck to figure out where they might be better than everyone else."

Seems like our society wastes a lot of human potential.

Matthew Bartek

This is quite an interesting piece and I agree with the follow up commentary about comparing disparate ideas. To me, it begs the question: taken from the perspective of the job candidate, the QB prospect, or the future teacher, how can *I* make the cut? What training to do I need to give myself to advance?

As I medical student I find myself asking this very question (and your article put it in a new light). There is the book learning, which is foundational, but beyond memorizing syndromes and diagnoses, what is the training that I need to seek to develop the softer skills? Is someone simply "born with it" or "born without it"? Moreover, does effort (however you can quantify that) correlate with outcome?

Thanks again for a great study break!


I found it beyond strange that nowhere in your piece do you mention that any decent teaching degree program requires as part of their curriculum loads of in-classroom experience: typically beginning with partial days assisting a teacher and culminating in full-scale student teaching (e.g., running the classroom, writing lesson plans, etc) under the supervision and mentorship of another teacher.

If people with this degree of training and dedication have low success rates, I can only imagine the disastrous failure rates of throwing anyone with a college degree and a pulse into a classroom.

The non-symmetric comparison may make for a more interesting writing assignment, but it also invites sloppy thinking and flimsy analogies. If we are to believe that poor teacher performance is a serious problem, then it deserves rigorous investigation.

Mario Asselin

I am glad that you worked on other issues than break the summer hollidays for kids like you said to me at Montreal few times ago.

A lot of what is not going so good can't work and find ways to improve the pedagogical issue seem to me a better solution for school succeed.

Thanks again for the interwiew at Infopress meeting in Montreal...


Really interesting article. I think the NFL problem goes deeper. Not only is it hard to identify talent, it's deceptively hard to evaluate a QB after entering the league.

Just like teachers, whose performance can be impacted by the pupils and classroom dynamics, some component of the QB's performance is attributable to the talent of other players around him. And, this is almost certainly more true for the QB than for any other position on the field. The story for Couch, for example, might well have been quite different had he been drafted by say, the Eagles, rather than the hapless Browns who, other than Couch's stellar year and what appears to be an anomalous performance last year from Derek Anderson, have a been a black hole for quarterbacks.

One way to evaluate this would be to compare the performance of back-up QBs who receive significant playing time to that of the starter. Once the back up has had time to adjust, are his stats radically different than the starter's? Take Cassel, who is mentioned in the article. No one would have predicted the gaudy stats he's been able to assemble in the past 4 or 5 weeks. And, it seems unlikely that he would have had the same success playing for, I don't know, the Bengals.

How many great players, even possible MVPs, are out there bagging groceries a la Kurt Warner who, after a poor start, never make it back into the league? OK, probably not many. But, for a team like the Lions, one would be enough, provided they can come up with an offensive line...




The best brand communications (and products) often seek to resolve contradictions.

I like the idea this applies to business leadership as well.


@ josh, RE: Teachers in training

I thought the implied message was the the training programs are not in fact training the right kind of skills to match the position.

The conclusion seems to be that natural soft skills are most important and are underdeveloped by traditional programs. The article mentions this several times with references to “regard for student perspective,” "feedback — a direct, personal response," and other key success factors.


An aside about comparing dissimilars:
I've just been into some research about learning from similarity and dissimilarity. It turns out that in most cases, being shown that two very different things are actually similar is usually highly informative for a learner, and people are very good at learning from this; better, actually, than when shown how two similar things differ. Thus the interest in comparing NFL quarterbacks and school teachers - the interesting and informative point is not only the comparison, but the similarity between remote things.

karim kanji

MG -

Just wanted to say that I enjoy your follow up comments to your book and writings.

Writing has now "officially" changed. Books are no longer finished products! With the advent of blogs we can continue to discuss and write the...rest of the story.

I love this!

Nicholas Paldino

I find it rather interesting that you mention Matt Cassell's performance as "remarkable". Where is the quantifier there?

I ask because from a few perspectives, it could be argued that his performance was anything but. From a fantasy football perspective, he is streaky, at best in terms of his production. In real-life football, games he has played in, his team has gone 8-7, not an overwhelming indicator of success.

It gets even worse when you make a comparison between him and the man that was in his position last year (and most likely next year as well).


did anybody see Selena Roberts really BORING book report?



Mr. Gladwell,

Rather than mentioning Matt Cassel of the Patriots, Tom Brady would be the better example. A 6th round 199th selection in the draft with a weak NFL scouting report goes on to win 3 Super Bowls. An outlier for sure.


This may be helpful only for me, but let’s ask this question: Is Jeff Garcia a good quarterback? The short answer: It depends.

Jeff Garcia’s career stats are pretty good, better than average. He’s thrown almost twice as many touchdowns as interceptions (151-79) over his NFL career and has led three different teams into the playoffs. However, his stints with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions were failures and both teams quickly moved to replace him. While a lot of time could be spent discussing the Lions and the Browns as dysfunctional organizations where no one has been successful, I think it’s safe to say that Jeff Garcia is a good quarterback on a team that passes the ball often, that has a mobile offensive line that allows hims to move outside the pocket and make plays, and receivers who can adjust to his movement and gain yards after the catch. He can be above average on a team that plays to his strengths, and terrible on a team that doesn’t.

Is it possible that could be true with teachers as well? If the superstar math teacher was asked to wear a shirt and tie, was at a school where students found his energy bouncy and abrasive, would they still be watching video of him? So, in addition to providing strong professional mentoring, can we also help teachers learn the environments in which they will help students to thrive?


Interesting follow up thoughts.

I'm interested in your brother's thinking on this. So would time as an intern/resident (as is required in the medical field) be useful or simply bring about uneven results?

It seems that professional development (notice: different than "merit") seems to be the most logical approach in creating successful teachers. Many argue that the first few years of childhood is when the greatest impact can be made on skill development...perhaps the same notion can be applied to teachers?

Somewhat broad thoughts I know, but you see what I'm getting at.


would love to hear your thoughts about the President Elect's recent appointment of Arne Duncan as Education Secretary? after having read your book, i was intrigued by mr. duncan's resume which suggests an affinity for charter schools. if you were to look into your crystal ball, do you think you would find that his appointment to obama's cabinet to be a step in the right direction? what sort of cultural indicators would you look for during the early stages as obama's administration works to improve our nation's education system in order to gauge the success of any new programs/systems that are implemented?

along the lines of this thread, any thoughts about if/how the 10,000 hr rule applies to the success of QBs and teachers? aside from the qualitative aspects of mentoring programs - is there a quantitative measure of the time that teachers would need to spend practicing teaching in order to become great teachers? if 10,000 hrs were a benchmark i would be interested to see how great vs. poor teachers stack up on average?

@Don - great point!

btw, i live in Los Angeles and had been looking for ways to get involved by volunteering as a tutor for underprivileged kids in my neighborhood. Your book served as an impetus for achieving that goal. I recently got in touch with a local charter school and am working with them to develop an after school program to develop computer skills. Your previous books helped me develop my business, and Outliers has helped me to start giving back. Thanks you for doing what you do, and for being an inspiration.


Shaun Hill would agree with you.


Two points --

1. Chuck Klosterman makes a good argument that apples and oranges are actually quite similar.

2. I can sense that you want to write a sports book. (Please write a sports book.)



Account Deleted

who can quailify to application


I find it very odd that having gone to some length to show how the teaching success is not tied to the academic prowess of the person teaching you then make the unsupported statement that to be a teacher you need to have a degree.

Cheers, Liam

Robyn Jackson

I was ready to write you a long letter arguing that more important than a teacher's innate talent is the environment into which she is drafted and the support she receives, when you conceded the point in this post. Rather than weeding out bad teachers or trying to recruit good teachers, school systems would be much better served if they focused on creating environments where teachers can get really good at teaching. I think there is much to be learned from the military (to make a rather clumsy comparison) which during a draft takes anyone -- regardless of bravery, training, experience, or talent -- and turns them into soldiers who, for the most part, develop weapons expertise and the bravery to charge into life-threatening situations and carry out their mission. In the same way, I believe that almost any teacher can become a master teacher with the right kind of support and practice and that most of that has to take place once they become teachers.


It really shouldn't be surprising that Matt Cassell has been an adequate performer in New England. He comes from a family of athletes, was a highly-regarded high school quarterback, and unfortunately landed at USC, on the depth chart behind two Heisman trophy winners. Cassell chose to stay at USC because he liked it there.

There are plenty of examples of quarterbacks who learned at the knee of Belichick and didn't become great quarterbacks. (Rohan Davey springs to mind.) Also, Belichick has no special expertise in working with quarterbacks ... he's a defensive coach. Cassell has learned to play quarterback from Josh McDaniels, a 31-year old student with a short resume.

This is a long way of saying that the reasons you give for the success of certain quarterbacks is entirely circumstantial. It could just as easily be due to the player's inherent ability, and it's just as likely that the player actually improved over a span of years due to his own effort and hard work rather than the teaching efforts of a professional football team, or his college, or etc.

kathleen thompson gonzalez, san juan

When I first began teaching English in a high school in upstate NY, I asked for the results of annual tests for reading and math. Everyone thought my request were strange.
"What do you want these for? No one else ever looks at them." But the secretary in the Guidance Department dragged out the results, and showed them to me.
"What year do you teach?" I taught 9 and 12 at the time, but the school did not test the seniors. She started to tear off the 9th grade report at the perforations when I stopped her. I asked to see all the results, including math, so I would be able to compare mine to others. she looked at me like I had two heads and I could tell she was irritated. You never ever want to irritate a secretary, and I knew that, but I really needed to know is my students were improving. I was surprised there wasnt a line of people eager for the results. This was in the 1980's. I could see the assigned reading and math levels on these IOWA tests were wildly inflated, evidently to reassure parents that all the students were above average, as they were in Lake Woebegone, but I found them useful nonetheless because I could measure the improvement of each of my students from their level achieved the previous year. A 9th grader might improve from 10.6 to 12.6, and since I have always found arithmetic relaxing, I dutifully recorded the incremental improvement +2.0, or in a few cases,-0.7.
I did the same for other grade levels, other teachers of the same grade level, and for my same students in their math assessments. I did this every year to assess my own performance and the methods I used which were different from those used by other English teachers. Obviously I wanted to know if the students were improving as well.

My point here is that not one single administrator ever gave a damn. Although my results were better than those of any other teacher in English or Math at any level, 7-11, my methods were often criticized. No principal, guidance counselor or superintendent ever listened when I tried to show them the results. They changed the subject. I got the impression they didnt know what I was talking about. I could tell each year that all the copies of the test results were filed in the Guidance Department and no one else ever looked at them, so I was probably right.

The IOWA tests assigned inflated grade levels, but they were very useful at measuring student progress. The district tested all students at the same time each year, but when they switched over to NCLB, they tested just two grades at first, and they tested in June, then March, then January, so it was not possible to measure progress. In addition, under NCLB, the goal was to get every student to pass. The assessments were not designed to measure individual student progress from year-to-year, and in fact, across
NY and across America, students are sliding down every year after 4th grade.

Re: NYorker article. Ed courses need to train teachers in best practices. They dont. They need to videotape student teachers while they are teaching, not just for those contrived 10-minute demos, but they need to have a camera running for several days. The student teacher needs to have all the footage evaluated for best practices. This actually compares very well to how they choose athletes, and it is also the way athletes learn to improve. Even in Middle School athletes are examining tapes to see how they can improve. I suggest Education Departments start doing the same thing.
It happened to me, by accident. I taught at a private school in Rhinebeck for Emotionally Handicapped teenagers, and I decided to direct MACBETH during the summer session. The school's photography teacher decided to videotape rehearsals. Ron was always taking photos of the kids for their individual yearbooks, and we all got used to having him there every afternoon. Later on, when I saw the video of myself when I was working with the kids during rehearsals, I knew that this was the right career for me. I just felt like a complete human being, operating on a mental and physical and emotional level, enjoying the moment. It was a tough job, and I was earning almost nothing, but those tapes showed me I was in the right place.

It is essential for student teachers to be able to see themselves and other teachers on tape, because once we start teaching we never get this chance. Teachers are rarely given even time to sit in other classes to watch how other teachers teach.

More later unless I am cut off.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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