Library Book Talk: Dr. Miriam Hirsch

Teach Like a Human: Essays for Parents and Teachers

By Elinor Grumet, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Hedi Steinberg Library

On Tuesday, November 26, 2021, the library sponsored the first in its series of 2021-22 library book talks. And it was excellent. Dr. Miriam Hirsch, associate professor of education and chair of the Education Preparation Program at Stern College for Women, discussed her new-and-first book, Teach Like a Human, in conversation with Dr. Deena Rabinovitch, chair of the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies and the director of the Legacy Heritage Foundation program at Stern College as well as director of the MafTEACH Fellowship for the Azrieli Graduate School.

The title of Dr. Hirsch’s book was inspired by the series Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov that lays out strategies for teachers to increase measurable academic outcomes. To Dr. Hirsch, the art of teaching is missing from his work, and it is that balance that she wished to restore.

The subtitle of her book is Essays for Parents and Teachers because education does not take place in school alone. Teachers and parents are partners in opening the eyes of children. The metaphor she used for the difference between parents and teachers is the difference between home cooks and master chefs. Both prepare food, but the teacher is a professional who knows a lot about techniques and strategies that the home cook does not. Both feed and nourish. Teachers best recognize their symbiotic relationship with parents when they validate parents’ experiences and gently suggest: Here’s another way to understand this situation.

Dr. Hirsch spoke of eliciting from a class of her students their most profound memory of their experience as pupils in day schools. One third of the class mentioned a special teacher; one third mentioned a special experience; and one third spoke of an experience that wounded them—public shaming or embarrassment.

Teaching and parenting are hard. We make mistakes. Something may work with one group and not another. We need to take risks and try new things throughout the course of our careers. It is important to fail (and allow our students to do so as well). As Miles Davis said, “It’s not the bad note you play that’s important, but rather the one that follows it, that sets things right.” Nothing is irreparable. It’s okay for a teacher to apologize and “dial it back.”

Dr. Hirsch emphasized the professionalism of teaching. The teacher’s presence in the room changes a child’s behavior. The teacher is there not for the students who catch on right away and could teach themselves but for the students who need a teacher.

Finally, she said, as John Dewey taught, that it is important for teachers to live with ambiguity. What will be asked? How will people respond? Teachers should be able to improvise and think fast on their feet. Sometimes questions are more important than answers and are held in the heart for a long time. As a teacher she worked with had perpetually emblazoned in the front of her classroom: “Learning is a life-long process.”

(Watch the talk on YouTube.)