Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results


I had a teacher once who called his students 'idiots' when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, 'Who eez deaf in first violins!?' He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn't explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We're in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.

Now I'm not calling for abuse; I'd be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization -- derided as 'drill and kill' -- are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles -- a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research -- explain why.

我曾经有一位老师,他把那些将事情搞砸了的学生称为“白痴”。这位老师名叫杰里·库普钦斯基(Jerry Kupchynsky),是一位令人望而生畏的乌克兰移民,他当时担任我们的乐队指挥。当有人在演奏中音调不准时,他会让整个乐团停下来,然后大吼道:“第一小提琴声部哪个人聋了?!”他让我们一直排练、直到每个人的手指几近流血。他还会用铅笔戳我们以此来纠正我们不标准的双手和臂膀姿势。

如果换做是在今天,他准会被解雇。但在几年前他去世之际,他得到的却是众人的敬仰:40年来他教过的学生和曾经的同事都从全国各地飞回新泽西我的家乡,大家拖着老乐器一起举办了场音乐会悼念他。我也提着好久都没摸的中提琴参与到其中。那一天,当我们音乐会的幕布升起时,我们所组成的是一支与纽约爱乐乐团(New York Philharmonic)规模相当的交响乐团。








1. A little pain is good for you.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book 'Outliers.' But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give 'constructive, even painful, feedback,' as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them 'deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.'

1. 一点点痛对你有好处。

心理学家K·安德斯·埃里克森(K. Anders Ericsson)进行的研究表明,要成为某方面真正的专家需要大约一万小时的实践,这一概念因被马尔科姆·格拉德威尔(Malcolm Gladwell)在其著作《异类》(Outliers)中提及而推广开来,而埃里克森本人也因此名声大噪。但来自同一研究、同样重要却常常被人忽略的结论是:真正的专家需要老师给出“建设性的、甚至是令人痛苦的反馈”,埃里克森博士在2007年刊发于《哈佛商业评论》(Harvard Business Review)的一篇文章中写到了这一点。他对诸多领域中──从小提琴演奏到外科手术、电脑编程再到国际象棋──数一数二的从业者进行了研究评估。结果发现,所有这些佼佼者“专门挑选了那些不易动情的导师,这些老师将对他们提出挑战,并促使他们的表现更上一层楼。”

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Rote learning, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children whose families come from India (where memorization is still prized) are creaming their peers in the National Spelling Bee Championship. This cultural difference also helps to explain why students in China (and Chinese families in the U.S.) are better at math. Meanwhile, American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction -- and few of them were made to memorize their times tables.

William Klemm of Texas A&M University argues that the U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization. Even the U.S. Department of Education raised alarm bells, chastising American schools in a 2008 report that bemoaned the lack of math fluency (a notion it mentioned no fewer than 17 times). It concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded 'drill and practice.'

2. 灌输知识,严苛训练。

死记硬背机械性学习法长期以来都遭到质疑,但如今却被认为是那些来自印度(死记硬背在那里仍然很受重视)家庭的孩子在全美拼字比赛(National Spelling Bee Championship)中能将同龄人远远甩在身后的一个原因。这一文化差异也有助于解释为何中国(以及在美的华人家庭)的学生数学更好。与此同时,有研究明确地显示,美国学生却在复杂的数学问题中挣扎,他们对基本的加减法运算掌握得不够熟练──而且几乎没有人被要求去背乘法表。

德州农工大学(Texas A&M University)的威廉·克莱姆(William Klemm)称,美国需要纠正反对记背的偏见。甚至连美国教育部(U.S. Department of Education)都拉响了警铃,他们在2008年的一份报告中斥责美国学校,为学生缺少数学运算流利度(这一概念在报告中提及的次数不少于17次)而感到悲哀。该报告总结道,学校需要接受令人生畏的“灌输知识与实践练习”的教育之道。

3. Failure is an option.

Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better. In a 2012 study, 111 French sixth-graders were given anagram problems that were too difficult for them to solve. One group was then told that failure and trying again are part of the learning process. On subsequent tests, those children consistently outperformed their peers.

The fear, of course is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem. Wrong again. In a 2006 study, a Bowling Green State University graduate student followed 31 Ohio band students who were required to audition for placement and found that even students who placed lowest 'did not decrease in their motivation and self-esteem in the long term.' The study concluded that educators need 'not be as concerned about the negative effects' of picking winners and losers.

3. 失败也是一种选择。


当然了,我们担心的是:失败将令我们的孩子在精神上受到创伤、使其自尊心尽失。这个想法,又错了。在2006年的一项研究中,鲍林格林州立大学(Bowling Green State University)的一位研究生追踪调查了31名被要求参加试音并接受排名的俄亥俄州各乐队的学生,结果发现就算是那些排名最低的人“从长期来看,也并未减少其积极性与自尊心”。该研究得出结论称,教育者在选出赢家和输家时,“无需担忧那些消极影响”。

4. Strict is better than nice.

What makes a teacher successful? To find out, starting in 2005 a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor Mary Poplin spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers (measured by student test scores) in the worst schools of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods like South Central and Watts. Their No. 1 finding: 'They were strict,' she says. 'None of us expected that.'

The researchers had assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. 'The core belief of these teachers was, 'Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it's my job to do something about it -- and I can do something about it,'' says Prof. Poplin.

She reported her findings in a lengthy academic paper. But she says that a fourth-grader summarized her conclusions much more succinctly this way: 'When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teachers coddled me. When I got to Mrs. T's room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she's right. I need to work harder.'

4. 严厉比和善更好。

是什么造就了一位教师的成功?为了找到答案,从2005年开始,在克莱蒙研究大学(Claremont Graduate University)教育学教授玛丽·波普兰(Mary Poplin)的带领下,一组研究人员花了五年时间观察了31位教学最高效的老师(根据学生考试分数衡量挑选出来的)。这些老师都在洛杉矶最差的学校教书,他们就职的校区分布在诸如中南区(South Central)和沃茨(Watts)这样的街区。研究人员最大的发现是:“他们都是严师。”波普兰教授说:“这个结论出人意料。”



5. Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children's' creativity. But Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg's research suggests just the opposite. Prof. Weisberg has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso -- and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.

Prof. Weisberg analyzed Picasso's 1937 masterpiece Guernica, for instance, which was painted after the Spanish city was bombed by the Germans. The painting is considered a fresh and original concept, but Prof. Weisberg found instead that it was closely related to several of Picasso's earlier works and drew upon his study of paintings by Goya and then-prevalent Communist Party imagery. The bottom line, Prof. Weisberg told me, is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. 'You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline. It is built on a foundation of learning the discipline, which is what your music teacher was requiring of you.'

5. 创造性也可后天习得。

传统教育遭受指摘的一点就是它会扼杀孩子们的创造性。但天普大学(Temple University) 心理学教授罗伯特·W·韦斯伯格(Robert W. Weisberg)的研究表明,事实正好相反。韦斯伯格教授已对包括托马斯·爱迪生(Thomas Edison)、弗兰克·劳埃德·赖特(Frank Lloyd Wright)与毕加索(Picasso)在内的创新天才进行了研究,结果发现不存在天生就是天才这回事。大多数创新巨匠工作都极其努力,他们一步一个脚印,循序渐进地努力收获成功。这些成就(在外人看来)似乎是突发的灵感与重大的突破。


6. Grit trumps talent.

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. -- all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit -- defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals -- is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.

Prof. Duckworth, who started her career as a public school math teacher and just won a 2013 MacArthur 'genius grant,' developed a 'Grit Scale' that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like 'I finish whatever I begin' and 'I become interested in new pursuits every few months.' When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school's notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as 'Beast Barracks.' West Point's own measure -- an index that includes SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude -- wasn't able to predict retention.

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism -- the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

6. 坚忍不拔胜过天分。

近几年,宾夕法尼亚大学(University of Pennsylvania)心理学教授安吉拉·达克沃思(Angela Duckworth)一直在对拼字比赛的冠军得主、常青藤盟校的本科生及美国西点军事学院(U.S. Military Academy in West Point)的学员进行研究──总共超过2,800名研究对象。在他们的身上,她发现坚忍不拔──这里指对长期目标的激情和坚持──是成功的最佳先兆。事实上,坚韧通常都与天分无关,甚至与其呈负相关。

达克沃思教授在其职业初期是一所公立学校的数学老师,她刚刚赢得了2013年麦克阿瑟“天才奖”(MacArthur "genius grant")。她研发了一套“坚韧指数”,该指数要求人们在12个诸如“我总是有始有终”和“我每几个月都会对新生事物产生兴趣”之类的问题上自测打分。当她将这套测试题用到即将入校的西点学员身上时,她发现那些得分高的人相对不太可能从被人称为“野兽兵营”的、“惨无人道”的夏季训练营中半路退出。西点自己的那一套测试方式──将高中毕业生的学术能力评估测试分数、课堂排名、领导能力和身体适应性包含在内的一个指标──无法预测最终坚持留下来的会是哪些人。


7. Praise makes you weak...

My old teacher Mr. K seldom praised us. His highest compliment was 'not bad.' It turns out he was onto something. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being 'smart' became less confident. But kids told that they were 'hard workers' became more confident and better performers.

'The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash,' wrote Prof. Dweck in a 2007 article in the journal Educational Leadership. 'If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not.'

7. 夸奖会让你脆弱。

我的故师K先生很少夸奖我们。他最高程度的夸奖不过是“不算差”。那表明他注意到了一些事。斯坦福大学(Stanford)心理学教授卡罗尔·德韦克(Carol Dweck)已发现,那些被人夸为“聪明”的10岁孩子变得更不自信。而那些被人称为“干活卖力”的孩子则变得更自信、表现也更佳。

德韦克教授在2007年刊发于《教育领导学》期刊(Educational Leadership)上的一篇文章中写道:“夸奖智商的全部意义在于提高信心与积极性,但二者都是转瞬即逝的。如果说成功意味着他们是聪明的,那么奋斗打拼就该意味着他们不聪明了。”

8. ... while stress makes you strong.

A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.

'Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience,' Prof. Seery told me. 'They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors.'

Prof. Seery's findings build on research by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier, who pioneered the concept of 'toughness' -- the idea that dealing with even routine stresses makes you stronger. How would you define routine stresses? 'Mundane things, like having a hardass kind of teacher,' Prof. Seery says.

My tough old teacher Mr. K could have written the book on any one of these principles. Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students' ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

Decades later, Mr. K's former students finally figured it out, too. 'He taught us discipline,' explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. 'Self-motivation,' added a tech executive who once played the cello. 'Resilience,' said a professional cellist. 'He taught us how to fail -- and how to pick ourselves up again.'

Clearly, Mr. K's methods aren't for everyone. But you can't argue with his results. And that's a lesson we can all learn from.

8. 压力让你更强大。

纽约州立大学水牛城分校(University at Buffalo)2011年的一份研究发现,童年时期适度的压力有助于增强人们乐观的性格。心理学教授马克·D·西里(Mark D. Seery)对健康的本科生进行了压力评估。该评估是基于这些学生在面对37种不同类型的重大负面事件,如家人离世或身患疾病时的表现得出的。然后西里教授将他们的双手插入冰水当中。与从未感受过压力的人相比,那些已经历过适当数量有压力的事件的学生实际上感受到的痛楚更少。


西里教授的结论是以内布拉斯加大学(University of Nebraska)心理学家理查德·丁斯特比尔(Richard Dienstbier)的研究为基础的,后者是“韧性”概念的倡导者──这里的“韧性”是指就算是处理日常压力也会让你变得更强大。你会如何定义日常压力呢?西里教授称:“就是普通平凡的事情,像有位狠角色老师之类的。”