Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Maybe I Should Have Stayed in the Monastery . . .

So I've just finished my first semester of full-time university teaching. The good news is, my students seem to like me and claim to have learned life lessons and academic skills in my classes. The bad news is, my somewhat narcissistic belief that I've somehow made a difference in their lives is probably misguided.

Lars Lefgren and David Sims, two economics professors at my own school, have just published research which suggests that a teacher's impact on his students' lives, whether that impact is positive or negative, is a fleeting phenomenon. "The researchers report that most of the gains from a highly rated teacher vanish quickly. In reading [English!], 87 percent of the benefit fades after one year." Now, to be fair--the findings of Lefgren and Sims were drawn from middle school data, so their research might not reflect the ability of college students to learn and retain skills/knowledge . . . but it's a sobering reminder that education is not a silver bullet for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. For a reminder on what factors HAVE been shown to permanently impact childrens' education, brush up on your Freakonomics; a child's parents and home life are clearly the most important factors--but perhaps not in the way that you might expect.

So maybe, if I wanted to change lives, I should stay at home with my wife, in the monastery.


Becky said...

Can you please share how the home life and parents are the most important factors - but perhaps not in the way that we think? I tried to read that was just to painful for my brain. Please share. :) I beg of you. And I'd like to think that you've made a difference in the lives of your students. Steve and I have a select one or two college professors that made that difference for us. xo

Becky said...

TOO! I meant too painful for my brain. Please don't grade me oh English professor! :)

Jenny said...

at least now I can erase any guilt over not having played Mozart to my embryos or newborns. Phew!

Anonymous said...

I love it!
My teachers probably won't like the research.
In any case You have made a difference in my life Uncle Zach.
Always your humble servant,
Silence DoGood

Michael Wyatt said...

*sigh* Oh, Hutch. So quick to assume we aren't paying attention.