Teaching Matters an address by Dr. Lynn Melby Gordon

Teaching Matters 1

Good Teaching Matters, Teachers Matter, and Teacher Education Matters

Address by Lynn Melby Gordon

Occidental College

Student Teaching Reception

June 6, 2012

Teaching Matters 2

Thank you so much for inviting me to be here with you today. It is such an honor.

I want to make three points today: 1) good teaching matters, 2) teachers matter, and 3) good

teacher education matters.


A variety of educational reforms have been promoted over the years but teacher effectiveness

research consistently shows that the teacher is the most crucial variable affecting student

achievement—not the school, not the curriculum, and not the latest pedagogical

fad/philosophy/or reform flavor-of-the-year being promoted. Over the course of my career,

I’ve certainly seen a lot educational reform ideas come and go, but the research keeps telling

us that, all other things being equal, some teachers are simply much more effective than

others. Educational researchers have been busy trying to describe what it is about highly

effective teachers that makes them highly effective.

Teacher effectiveness studies show that:

a) Highly effective teachers are smart. They have thorough, deep content area knowledge

and excellent verbal skills (more elaborate vocabularies). Together these seem to lead to

lesson clarity. It is thought that teachers with highly-developed vocabularies are able to

explain material more thoroughly and in a variety of different ways (in order to help more of

their students master the content or skills being taught).

b) Highly effective teachers are well-prepared and highly skilled. They know about lesson

design and take pains to plan well-structured daily lessons. They plan for effective allocation

of instructional time. They plan lessons that motivate students. They plan lessons that meet

the needs of students with special needs, English learners, struggling readers, other students

at risk, as well as high-achievers. Again, they’re well-prepared and they plan.

c) Highly effective teachers possess certain positive background qualifications, currently

termed “dispositions,” which you might be familiar with as personality attributes, or

attitudes. For example, they possess something called high teacher efficacy, a belief in their

ability to cause change with students. Highly effective teachers are also caring, enthusiastic,

energetic, have positive attitudes, and high-expectations.

d) Highly effective teachers have excellent classroom management skills. All teachers

encounter students with issues and discipline challenges, but highly effective teachers know

how to get the students on their side, earn their respect, and minimize disruptive behavior.

Highly effective teachers tend to have a big bag of tricks and lots of good strategies up their

proverbial sleeves for engaging students. That said, good classroom management is closely

related to the first three factors mentioned—being smart, well-prepared, and possessing

positive dispositions or attitudes.


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Allow me to share some stories about individual teachers I have had the privilege to have had

had in my life and how they influenced me.

a) My kindergarten and first grade teachers. The thrill of learning to read!

b) Mr. Harold Jacobs, an amazing algebra teacher at Grant High School in Van Nuys. Mr.

Jacobs motivated each and every lesson with a vivid real-world example. He made math,

which I never felt strong in, easy and fun. I realized how important it is to teach math well

and how important it is, when teaching any subject, to plan careful, clear lessons that include

terrific examples.

c) Dr. Jo Stanchfield at Occidental College. Perhaps you have already heard about the

legendary, late, great Dr. Stanchfield? She was such a vibrant, enthusiastic character and

fabulous teacher educator. She had wild black hair with a dramatic white streak on one

temple. She wore jangly bracelets and necklaces and wore big rings and she taught with true

passion. Stanchfield really taught us the nuts and bolts of how to actually teach reading. Plus,

she had an amazing commitment to her students and the field of reading. She was truly

famous. Those of us who were privileged to have had her, all felt “shot out of a cannon” to

go forth and, as corny as it sounds, try to change the world, one kid at a time. From Dr.

Stanchfield, we learned about

• letter sounds,

• ABC puppets to motivate and focus student attention,

• auditory discrimination of letter sounds, which is now called “phonemic awareness,”

• somprehension skills taught through literature,

• the crucial importance of teaching with enthusiasm,

• understanding human development through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarachy of Needs.

And many of the alumni here today will remember this. We, as Dr. Stanchfield’s reading

methods students, had to raise our arms (as if holding torches) and agree to “Go forth and

hold high the torch of literacy!” She was force of nature. She passed the torch of literacy to

us so that we could pass it on to our future students. Your professors have passed the torch to

you. You will pass the torch of literacy on to your students.

d) Rae McCormick and the Occidental Reading Clinic. Rae taught us about the importance of

reading aloud to each child as part of each session, in order to build motivation and extend

vocabulary. Phonics got covered during “word work.” I have memories of using flannel

board stories to teach comprehension skills through literature. We learned about the

importance of planning customized lessons to reach each child’s individual needs. Rae was a

knowledgeable and caring educational leader.

e) Dr. Norm Olsen at Oxy. He carefully taught and modeled the components of a lesson

plan. Every lesson Dr. Olsen taught was a perfect example of the elements of lesson design in

action. And Dr. Olsen once said to me, “Maybe one day you’ll go to graduate school to get

your Ph.D.” He planted a seed (that grew later). That’s sometimes what teachers do for us.

They plant seeds.

Teaching Matters 4

f) Mrs. Susie Smith, my third grade student teaching master teacher at Eagle Rock

Elementary School—and also a student of Dr. Jo Stanchfield

and Oxy’s current student

teaching supervisor.

(Susan Smith was present at the reception and acknowledged with a warm round of applause)



I am so grateful for Susie Smith’s tremendous encouragement and

support during student teaching so long ago and am still in awe of her amazing classroom

management. That is where I learned about table points and the prize box! (Some ivy tower

professors might tell you, “Oh, no. You mustn’t offer extrinsic rewards or you’ll eliminate

intrinsic motivation.” Well, don’t they know about the Mary Poppins principle? Many of us

know that in the real world a figurative spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.)

Susie created an extremely positive classroom climate. I was so impressed that way she had

taught all of her students to

always treat one girl in the class who had a developmental

disability so very kindly. And we taught “Power Writing” every Friday, an effective

expository modeled writing technique. I am so grateful to my master teacher’s generosity in

provided a learning space and room to grow. She nurtured my interest in curriculum

development, at that time in genealogy & book making projects. She’s still an inspiration to

the lucky Oxy students with whom she has continued to work.


Since we know that good teaching is the number one variable affecting student learning, we

should want to do whatever it takes to produce more highly effective teachers. What better

place to do this than at Oxy? Many alumni in the field of education have been writing letters

to scold the president and trustees of Occidental College for discontinuing the teacher

credential program. I have written two so far. It’s really a scandal that they would make

such a decision.

Occidental College has had a long and distinguished history of producing outstanding

teachers and many alumni feel the college has a solemn obligation to continue in this role.

Oxy has always had smart students, and that is step one in creating great teachers, to start

with highly intelligent people who want to make a difference in the lives of children. In

addition to attracting bright students, Oxy has always had top-notch teacher education

professors. It’s a winning combination. And Oxy has had a tradition of being a part of the

community and sending student teachers out into local partnership schools where they can

refine their skills. We should not step away from our mutually valuable educational

relationships in local schools and school districts.

I call for a commitment from the college to bring back teacher education. It’s the principle of

the thing; Oxy simply

should continue to want to produce teachers. Here is my plea for

concerted action from the president, trustees, and policy makers at the college: if money is

the problem, find the money! Students certainly pay plenty of tuition at Oxy and the college

has a lovely endowment. Even if teacher education is an expensive program (or even a

slightly unprofitable program from time to time), if administrators are saying that money as

an issue, it is a poor excuse. We see that there is money for other things and other programs,

why not for teacher education? It is simply the right thing to do, for the college to maintain

Teaching Matters 5

what has always been a jewel box of a teacher preparation program and to recruit the best

and the brightest into teaching.

At Oxy, I started off as a pre-med student, but I was entranced by the curriculum

development projects produced by my creative next-door neighbor, Carol Coon, in our

freshman dorm, Erdman. Then I fell in love with teaching by taking Education 90, the


Introduction to Teaching


course, where I was placed in an enchanting kindergarten class at

Toland Way Elementary School. What a terrific way to attract students and lure them into a

rewarding and important career. Discontinuing teacher education at Occidental College is

just a terrible idea.

I am issuing an invitation to all those present to continue to pester, question, and guilt the

president and trustees of Occidental College. Keep writing those letters and urging them to

bring back teacher education!


I have here a copy of Dr. Stanchfield’s beginning reading curriculum guide,

The Lion’s Share.


I hunted down and scored this treasure on eBay (after having a two-year search on the title).

This is Dr. Stanchfield’s letter to the teacher from the preface:

You, the teacher, hold the key— the golden key that can open the magic door to the

wonderful world of books. The greatest adventure in school, and perhaps in life, is

learning to read. You, the teacher, have the privilege of making this adventure a

successful and exciting one. Pause for a moment to consider how important you are.

Once a child enters kindergarten, the key person in developing his attitude toward school

and reading is you, his teacher. Smile! Accept children as they are and make t hem feel

the worth of their contributions. Be filled with genuine and obvious enthusiasm for

children and for teaching. Smile! Capture children’s imaginations with materials that

stimulate, with an environment that excites curiosity and interest, and with questions that

provoke thought. Smile! Teach children to think divergently; encourage them to be

independent and to dare to differ. Teach them to think open-mindedly, letting them know

that they may be right, but that there may be other answers, too. Smile! One proof of real

concern for children is considerate planning for the wisest use of their school time.

Important, too, is flexibility in planning and carrying out plans—flexibility in your

expectations for children because you realize that no two children learn in exactly the

same way, or at the same rate, or with the same stimuli. Good planning is absolutely

necessary for optimum learning every day. You may not follow a plan precisely—in fact,

unexpected circumstances may arise, making it wise to alter the plan considerably—but if

there is no planning there is usually little learning. Smile! Remember and contemplate a

few remarks children have made about teachers who smile: “My teacher likes me; my

teacher smiles.” “I like my teacher; my teacher smiles.” “My teacher is pretty; my

teacher smiles.” “I like to go to school; my teacher smiles.” “School’s a happy place; my

teacher smiles.” “Even when I make a mistake, my teacher smiles.” (Stanchfield, 1973)

Teaching Matters 6

Finally, new teachers, in addition to those pearls of wisdom from dear Dr. Stanchfield, please

remember the following:

• Good teaching matters.

• You will make a difference.

• Go forth and change the world, one child at a time.

• Teaching is a noble profession.

• Because good teacher education matters, stay in touch with ALOED and help us bring back

teacher education at Occidental College.

• If you’re going to be a kindergarten or first grade teacher, remember to start with phonics!

Teach those letter sounds, especially to the short vowel sounds, then teach them how to

blend, and they’ll be on the road to reading.

• As Dr. Stanchfield taught, “Go forth and hold high the torch of literacy!”

• And, finally, I offer you a quote attributed to Mohatma Ghandi: “Be the change you wish

to see in the world”

Teaching Matters 7


Stanchfield, J. 1973. The Lion’s Share. San Rafael, CA: Leswing Press.

Teaching Matters 8

Author Note

Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Lynn Gordon, Department

of Elementary Education, California State University, Northridge, Northridge, CA, 91330-

8265. Email: Lynn.Gordon@csun.edu


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