Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.04.23Phil and Me

The Master in His Salad Days

Well, it’s been a bit of a tough week for me! Phil Beadle, a highly renowned master teacher and author of teaching advice books sort of lowered the boom on my work in the most unceremonious way! This was devastating of course. Imagine how it felt to have the master himself accuse me of perpetuating  “symbolic violence on some of our nation’s and a specific strata of American children” and say that my books were “totalitarian, dehumanising… imbecility.”

Plus he went a step further and offered this devastating take down of yours truly:

He has a lovely, kind face, [Thanks, Phil!] and he expresses himself in written form with humility, modesty and grace. [Blushing, NGL] There is perhaps not enough controversy over the weight of his experience as a classroom teacher: I believe he served for a whole year as an English teacher in “New Jersey Independent School.” [Well, three actually, but NP. See below] After some time out to do his MBA at Harvard, he then became the co-founder the Academy of the Pacific Rim where he was Dean of Studies [No biggie as I know we’re not letting facts get in the way of a good narrative here but APR was before the MBA and while there I was first a teacher, then Dean of Students (not studies, mate) and then principal, again see below] then very quickly principal of the school.[4]You could argue that, on the basis of that level of teaching experience, he has genuine reason for his modesty. But, equally, you could argue that you do not have to be a great player to be a good coach though, clearly, Lemov left the field of play as early as he was able to do so.

Ouch, Phil!

Phil, sadly, is not quite as committed to doing his homework as he is to his teaching craft (who could be??) and I don’t mean to obsess here but I do tend to prefer a fact to a lie so while I don’t claim to be the most experienced teacher I should note that I have taught for five years including three at my first school, one and a half at APR–there’s a half year in there because I was asked to become the Principal of the school mid-year when the then-principal left–again I don’t claim to be the best teacher but I think that fact that I was promoted to school leadership was at least in part a reflection of what the school and its board thought of my teaching… so maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as Phil says it was. There was another bit of teaching- introductory composition while I was getting my masters. I tend to round that and the half year before i became principal plus a few other things down to a year even though it was a little more, honestly. God who even cares?? I guess I’m just having a reaction to the self-righteous defenders of the faith who are not afraid to make things up to gain the moral high ground. I mean honestly, there’s so much about me that’s actually true. Why degrade your integrity for a tiny little win like that? 

But I digress. 

Phil took time out of his busy teaching schedule to go on Teachers Talk Radio with Tom Rogers to further emphasize the above points. He  suggested that he might debate me if (he seemed skeptical here) I could control myself (!) [did he think i was going to ask for his autograph? I promise I won’t] and he shared his concerns that I had arranged to have his twitter account taken down.

But then things got even weirder. Phil said, “As far as I can see [SLANT] is pretty well all the pedagogical tradition that TLAC represents… all it has got on its palette.” And since, you know, there are 12 chapters in the book on things like how to enrich discussions and how to use writing to cause students to do more and better thinking , since the book is–probably as a point of weakness–almost 500 pages–forgive me but I started to ask myself: Is it possible Phil hasn’t actually read it? Is it possible that this is a second tiny gap in his research?

But Jung writes that the characteristics of others that bother us most are the ones that remind us of ourselves, and this caused me to self-reflect. I was worried that perhaps Phil didn’t know my work as well as he might. Did I truly know Phil’s work? No. I did not.

So I set out to learn more! And the upshot is that I found a great video of Phil offering teaching advice, How to Teach: Teaching Tips for New Teachers. This was especially useful because as Phil has mentioned I am practically a new teacher myself! I watched the video to see how much I could learn!

Great news! Though I hesitate to compare myself to Phil, I actually found a lot of overlap between my ideas and his–I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging–but also some points of disagreement too.

I’m going to share Phil’s teaching advice bit by bit in a series of posts, comparing what he says to my own point of view. I know I flatter myself but maybe it will be useful to others as well.

Phil’s first piece of advice is offered in this pithy piece about enforcing rules:


I feel really good about this one. Phil and I agree! It’s important to have rules to make sure everyone is safe. When people feel safe they learn. This is a point I’ve been criticized for making myself–the idea that there should be rules and everyone should follow them–so I’m glad Phil is on my side. I hope this doesn’t cause a breach between him and some of the gang on Twitter who were chiming in that they don’t think teachers should ever tell students what to do. Rules and routines are different things, of course, but I’m in favor of both, in part because I think vibrant routines prevent rules being broken in the first place and in part because they honor students learning time, and it seems like Phil does too. So far so good.

Here’s rule 2:


Here Phil Talks about the importance of a seating plan.  I’m sort of with him here. I agree that seating plans are important but I personally think there’s a bit more to it than just seating people with classmates they don’t like so they don’t talk. I see it–humbly–through a bit more of a learning lens: Where can we seat people to maximize connection, learning and attention? I actually like to seat students next to people they work well with! But maybe that’s because I haven’t taught as much as Phil. But either way that’s just my personal preference. I don’t really write about seating plans in TLAC so this must be some of colorful stuff on the “palette” of pedagogy that Phil says I’m missing. [But noted for TLAC 4.0, Phil!!]

There’s a lot more advice Phil has to offer but I’m going to go all Rosenshine and pause here to let you process. I’ll pick up the discussion–and Phil’s other teaching advice!–in another post soon.

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