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mark chenard

Good and great teachers, no matter where they teach, believe that what they are doing has some kind of relevence/importance in the lives of their students. Poor teachers show up each day with a defeatist attitude and students can sense this from a mile away. The type of personality that can maintain optimism in the face of chaos and squalor is extremely rare. If we are ever going to improve the education in the lower socioeconomic areas of this country, we will need to place this type of person in those jobs, and that probably means paying them more than they can get elsewhere.

Robert Walsh

I enjoyed the piece very much and I have a few additional points to throw into the mix.

1. Professional teams want to draft the best players not only to have them on their own team but to keep them off of a competing team. This tends to introduce one different sort of variable into the comparison.

2. Enlarging your pool of potential quarterbacks making the jump to the pros sounds nice in theory, but practically speaking ignores a variety of relevant factors. Pro football teams draft all of their players in an extended draft that lasts something on the order of twelve rounds. Teams also can permit walk-ons to try out. The draft is an effort to ensure that talent is approximately evenly distributed throughout the league, but the key thing to bear in mind is that the draft lumps all the players from all positions together in one pool. This means that to open up the field to more quarterbacks you could either have a separate draft or a much larger draft process. Or an enlightened coach who takes walk on tryouts seriously.

3. Success or failure at the Professional football level may be substantially influenced by the training a quarterback receives after joining the pro team. Joe Montana may be a classic example of this. The potential importance of this training after joining a pro team means that success as a college player may actually be a good indication of potential for success that is then overwhelmed by the impacts of subsequent actions by the pro team. Different pro teams have different capacities to develop their talent after it has been drafted and this might actually be more significant in the end. The same may well apply to teachers and the schools that hire them; some may be better at cultivating teaching excellence.

3. The situation you describe in teaching is extremely valuable and I believe that the methods used to evaluate prospective teachers you describe could be also used to quite effectively improve the performance of many teachers. However, to jump from observing that some teachers are better than others to the idea that large numbers should be hired and few kept seems to be a hasty conclusion, if one takes the view that teaching is an ability that can be learned and improved, for rather obvious reasons. On the other hand if teaching ability is innate then this should be obvious from the outset and a better hiring process is the clear answer, again contradicting the conclusion that many should be hired and few kept on long term.

I do like the possibility that salary increases could tied to performance. If certain basic performance levels need to be maintained to remain employed and those teachers who take it upon themselves to learn to perform at a higher level will be rewarded with a higher salary, you would have a stronger motivation. If the average performance of a school is published then parents would be able to factor this in to selecting where to send the kids. A really controversial idea then would be to make teaching something that is at least in part compensated by a sliding scale that goes up and potentially also back down with changes in teaching performance, sort of like teaching on commission. This brings us back to professional sports where I have always found it odd that players are primarily compensated in advance on the basis of predicted performance instead of by being rewarded afterwards for actual performance.

In essence your piece is making the argument that a broader selection process is needed, whereas I suspect that the evidence could also be interpreted as showing that the "treatment effect" is the more significant concern in both cases.

Again, thanks very much for another thought provoking and highly worthwhile piece. And thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts.


@ Josh

The quality of the pre-service program depends particularly on the strength of the supervising teacher. It is a lottery; get a poor supervising teacher and your teaching may be influenced for some time. It is just like a student - several years of mediocre teaching can set a student up to two years behind the learning of another student receiving excellent instruction. It make sense that a similar situation would occur with inexperienced teachers and their mentors.

@ Kathleen

I know a school here Down Under that would welcome you (and others with similar desires to really *know* their students) with open arms.


thanks ....


The question I would add to your comments about your thoughts on more effective mentoring/induction for new teachers is how this piece relates to your earlier piece on genius. One of the inherent problems, I think is that many people believe that you can teach or you can't. There are plenty of teachers who start off shakily and get better over time. A question for schools is: how much time should someone get to improve as a teacher?


I was wondering how much child psycology is taught in the teachers education program. I am wondering how much of it is correct. How many teachers are pre programed to be open to ideas and thoughts.
Our society is based alot less on how well you can do somthing and more so based on how well you read what a person is wanting or expecting from you in a social manner in order to attain a likable dispostion which may further you alot quicker than a good resume or credentionals. Lukes comment on how the question was answered in the interveiw would relate more to getting the job ,but really, was that person reading how he wannted that question answered.
We all give off those subltle vibes much to how a phoney psycic would quickly learn what you wanted to hear.
Kathleen Thompson was shut out because she did not know how to make her findings refelct back to the important leaders of the school in the way they may have preferred to hear it( note the important leaders are not always those in leadership postions).
It has only been recently that I have learned the pecking order of discions and change really are shrouded in a social hirachy that is manipulated by thoses who speek in the social language. There is way to much agreeing to agrree and disagreeing to agree. alot of people are to scared to take a risk of going against the grain to make change happen or to impove what ever task that is at hand, even when all they can do nis complain about a situation. People are taking offense in response to comments or questions of the way things are, which puts the breaks on a path to improvements or change. Students are no different. If what they want is to learn in a certain manner that is apeasing to their naure thay will improve if it is not they will shut you and and gang together to complain that you suck, school sucks, its to hard, who cares,... but who will say to the teacher "how can we fix this to make it easier." Not to many students will stand alone because then they will look like a nerd or they may say it to a teacher out of frustration and the teacher will take offense and dissreagard them any way. I would like to see a change in north american societies that teaches kids to check your ego at the door and always be free and open to ideas "your mine and ours" so we can move forward together in a positive way. I supose it would take a great deal of teaching kids about hearing rather than listening(agreeing/compliance)and appreciation for others ideas?


Schools may grant you certifications. However, "certified" and "competent" aren't necessarily synonymous.

This is what I think about when I see so many mindless job postings today that demand certain qualifications. If you really want to hire, test for competence.

Moreover, is it possible to be competent at a job never having gone to college for it?


It seems an important concept is being seemingly overlooked: a teacher becomes "elite" through practice. This concept is thoroughly digested in Outliers when discussing hockey players; however, it is not really processed in your article when it comes to teachers. A teacher, once he/she graduates college; perhaps finishes a masters degree; enters and completes a credential program; then "passes" their student teaching, is only now ready to display the potential in becoming an "elite" teacher. Possibly, after many years of actual teaching, will he/she display the work of an elite teacher. In other words, it takes years of practice before a teacher can becomes a phenomenal teacher.

Ruth Carver

Dear Mr. Gladwell,

I would like to invite you to speak at the fall conference of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics of Philadelphia and Vicinity on Saturday, November 14, 2009. It has become increasingly more difficult to get young teachers to attend professional development opportunities, but when we get them to attend they leave energized and more enthusiastic about their teaching. They feel more connected to the larger mathematics community and are less likely to leave the profession because of feelings of isolation. I know that you must get thousands of requests to speak but I am hoping that if you are free on that date you might consider my request. I heard you speak this past spring at the Free Libray of Philadelphia on your book, Outliers. Since that talk I have read your other two books and several of your articles including Teachers and Quarterbacks. You are a powerful speaker and writer and your presence as keynote speaker at our conference would certainly help us to attract more teachers. Thank you for considering my request.

John Park

On page 217 of the book, it should be Kwachang or Kwajang, not Kwacang for a division chief in Korean.



Maurice Kaufman


Malcolm Gladwell (“Most Likely to Succeed” 12/15/2008) explains that a teacher should be credited for superior pupil achievement when this occurs year after year, and that these results would predict similar future results. But do we expect that level of achievement of a first-year teacher? Do we refuse to rehire her after average first-year achievement by her pupils? Or did “Mrs. Brown” become more effective as she practiced her craft?

Gladwell describes teaching behaviors that indicate good teaching. But we need evidence that these behaviors will predict the superior pupil achievement as well.

There are categories of knowledge that should make it easier to acquire teaching skills. Gladwell’s math teacher can demonstrate knowledge of mathematics even before he is hired. The early-childhood teacher can first obtain knowledge of child development so that she will understand how young children attend and engage in learning. Then she can gain skill at eliciting this engagement.

Effective teacher-preparation programs can be provided in undergraduate, graduate, or nontraditional structures. Subject-matter knowledge (math, history, etc.) is generally acquired prior to or concurrently with a teacher-preparation program. That program can provide knowledge of child or adolescent development and knowledge of learning and teaching. Skills for competent teaching, built on this knowledge, can be developed and assessed in clinics (e.g., tutoring children), practica (student teaching), and mentorships.

There is no need merely to select out candidates who possess desired competencies; a teacher-preparation program can provide foundational knowledge and then provide training so that competencies are acquired.

Maurice Kaufman, Ph.D.
Professor of Education, Emeritus
Northeastern University

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WOW, this'll keep me busy for years. I've been subscribing to your RSS feed for months, but somehow I missed this great list.


I did not read your original piece but found this entry very interesting. I felt the teacher problem of needing lots of them was similar to Nurse problem we have had. As a recent RN grads learn quickly the hospital is a environment where excrement runs down hill from hostile rude and abusive MD's to charge or more experienced RN's down to the new meat on the unit and also the lowly Nurse Aide or even housecleaner. They say Nurses eat their young and so there is a highly dysfunctional culture at work. I imagine first year of teaching is very similar and wished RN's also had a better culture of mentoring, where they allowed mistakes or were better able to nuture them in early years as many leave field entirely after a year or two, the more seasoned RN's are also treated unfairly expected to continue to put in 12hr shifts and Overtime even in their 60's or god bless them 70's.
I always wondered why young RN's had beef with older RN's for being behind the times with computers or new ideas for care, when I felt that they were treasures who have worked in trenches for 20 sometimes 30 years and their wealth of experience is so much more valuable. Managment just saw the dollar signs and got as many as possible to leave with targeted harrasment/ corrective action and then early retirement offers.

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Nice blog, its great article informative post, thanks for sharing it. Thanks for the information!

Mike G.

Your brother is right on both counts. Mentorship is much too haphazard. And Year 1 of teaching has unusual opportunities for arbitrage.

We have a stealth teacher training program where, instead of sending folks out to get trained by a zillion random mentor teachers, we coach them all "ourselves" in a very Belichick like way: we have a system, they master the system, we obsess about detail, we recruit for intangibles/character, heavy use of video, lots of practice of "game-like situations," almost no theory.

We don't wear hooded sweatshirts, however.

Rick Schmid

The answer then, based on your argument, to NFL quarterback mentoring and development is clear: farm clubs for NFL teams, just like in Major League Baseball.



Award winning Author Malcom Gladwell has done some very interesting research on finding success at NFL Quarterbacks. I was fortunate enough to read some of his thoughts both in the University of Toronto MBA school, Rotman School of Management's Spring Magazine and some follow up thoughts in online resources (all linked below). The insight that Gladwell has provided I believe is applicable to the 49ers search for their quarterback of the future. It has also heightened my hopes for rookie quarterback Nate Davis.

Most of the fans who visit this site have an above average knowledge of football. Certainly, we almost all recognize that finding a quarterback who can be successful at the NFL is extremely difficult. The predictors of success: draft position, arm strength, accuracy, IQ, mobility, school, and many other factors often have no positive correlation to success, or very limited correlation. We know of plenty of bust stories (Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch), and plenty of success stories (Joe Montana, Tom Brady). Gladwell proposes that because the position is so unique, the only way to really predict success is on the NFL field.

Linda Hagar

I am a former classroom teacher and current owner of Linda Hagar Tutoring, and I love your books! I was hoping you would write a book about education systems around the world and what the best practices are. We need people like you bringing these issues to light. Thank you!

Renee Marie Johnson

Very interesting article! I would love for you to further explore a comment you made about how to get more quality people into the teaching field. In the sentence below you mention that pay is the only way to get more people to try out. I realize that you are writing about a specific change in how we apprentice teachers, but have you really researched this common sense belief? I co-teach in a first grade inclusion classroom and absolutely love my job. I love where I spend a good deal of my life, the interaction with and feedback from my students. I just don't believe that the money was a primary factor in going into the field. I have taught as a single mother and as a married person and felt able to take care of myself with my salary as a single. But I do notice that most of my peers are married to someone who makes much more than them and this is true for me now. I spend many many more hours than my higher income husband thinking, planning and learning more about my job, but I am able to do this with less hours at my job site. In other words, I just don't believe that money is the "only" way or even the best way to attract a better pool of teachers and would love for you to sit with this belief, think about it, research it with a different lens and share it with us along the way! Thanks!

But if we find eighty-fifth-percentile teachers who can teach a year and a half's material in one year, we're going to have to pay them a lot—both because we want them to stay and because the only way to get people to try out for what will suddenly be a high-risk profession is to offer those who survive the winnowing a healthy reward.


I realize I'm about a year late in adding to this thread, but I just read this piece now, and had an interesting thought that I felt compelled to share.
recently read "Blink" where it was argued, essentially, that a "first-impression", blink-of-an-eye sort of decision can often be more accurate then a painstakingly researched one. We read about art dealers who can just take a look at a statue and "feel in their gut" whether it's; and about the professor who can predict with great accuracy whether a marriage is going to last or not by just listening to a couple talk for a few minutes.

And yet that doesn't seem to work for Dan Shonka (or other NFL talent scouts). They can't just watch a few games, or spend 15 minutes with an athlete, and make a quick, from-the-gut yet accurate, prediction whether he is going to be successful in NFL. And I think that's because we have no good predictors for this particular prediction problem.

So what does this say about the claims from Blink? I think it says that the Blink-like techniques only work on problems for which we have good predictors; and what these techniques do is just to help us distinguish the good predictors from the bad ones. But, as the quarterback problem shows, they can't help us find better predictors.

The marriage prediction experiments presented in the book do support this. When random people tried to predict marriage success, without having an idea about predictors, they did a bad job. They could not find the predictors themselves. Once they were told what the predictors are (by people who had studied the problem with great care), they could disseminate the good ones from the bad ones, and do a good prediction job. But, and I think this is important, the professor who did find the good predictors, did not do it in the blink of an eye; he engaged in a detailed, thorough analysis.

Mike K.

Mr. Gladwell,

I found your brilliant piece on quarterbacks and teachers from a link on the National Football Post (specifically a column written by Mike Lombardi, who is also familiar to me primarily from the work of Bill Simmons).

It occurs to me now that I bought your book "Blink" a few years ago on an impulse, and have yet to finish it (I'm about halfway through). I remember it as being an excellent read, though, and the fact that it sits unfinished with me is solely because of my own laziness and addiction to televised entertainment.

I'm not sure why I bothered telling you all that, actually. All I really wanted to say is this: That was a fantastic comparison, sir, and I dearly look forward to reading more of your work.

In fact, I believe it's time I got off my fat ass and finished your book!

(Please excuse the salty language. I don't know where that came from. But I trust you're prepared for such things, having written such an engaging article that, in part, discusses football.)

Doug Okamoto

Overall Draft Picks and Their Passer Ratings through Week 15

As of Week 15 in the current NFL season. New Orleans Saints QB, Drew Brees, who was the first pick in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft, 33rd overall, is the top-rated passer among starting quarterbacks with a passer rating of 109.4. Oakland QB, JaMarcus Russell, whose passer rating is a league-low 49.6 was chosen first overall in 2007. Other No.1 overall draft picks, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford rank 5th, 9th, 17th, 21st and 30th, respectively. Three quarterbacks who were never drafted, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme, 8th, rank 12th and 32nd.


Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs, ranks 24th which puts puts him in the lower third among starting NFL quarterbacks. During the 2008 regular season, Cassel ranked 10th which coincides with the current ranking of Tom Brady, the injured New England Patriot QB he replaced last season. In other words, the Patriot quarterback ranks tenth both seasons.

Steve Buel

Many of the best and most dedicated teachers I ever worked with in my 43 years of teaching were hired by a principal who just talked about life with the applicants. He always said that if they were bright and liked kids then they would be a good teacher. He is pretty much right.

We have fallen into a terrible trap in American education thinking that we can train teachers by inservicing them in educational trends, many of which are just ploys by administrators to cover their behinds when the test scores aren't as good as they should be.

Inceidentally, test scores are one horrible way to generalize about good teaching. What the tests test are only a portion of what we should be teaching, yet they get all the attention and teachers who do well there often, much more than the public realizes, teach pretty directly to the test effectively narrowing what kids learn.

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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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