Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to spot a good teacher

During my forty years in education I have learned a few things about what makes a good teacher. You know a good teacher simply by instinct lots of time; you know a good person the same way too. When you talk to your child, you will know how he/she feels about that teacher and you too can gauge how good that teacher is.

I am referring to qualities that consistently appear to shine in people who excel in the art and science of teaching. None of these qualities appear on resumes, in interviews, on elaborate lesson plans.

The New Yorker had an article a few months ago about the difficulty of evaluating good teaching/ an effort that if successful, might make performance-based salary advancements quite acceptable.
Here is my attempt at a definition in five easy steps. Why five? It forces me to distill and compress the essence of a profession. Let me know if these are of any use. I especially appreciate feedback from those of you in the profession. Tell me which, or any you agree or disagree with. Thanks.
1. Ability to see the entire classroom, and like a masterful conductor, move around and keep every player engaged to the task at hand. Every Player knows he/she is responsible to that master conductor. Ask your child: are you allowed to play in your classroom?
2. Ability to explain the subject/concept/skill in a variety of ways within the space of a couple of lessons or so, and through homework activities. Every Player knows that he/she must master the material and that the teacher is his partner in that mastering. Ask your child: did you understand your homework?
3. Ability to simplify/ration/scaffold and extend understanding past the textbook materials, past the assignments. Ask your child: can you pass the test on this material?
4. Ability to encourage, motivate, cajole, see potential in every player. Ask your child: do you like your teacher?
5. Ability to expand the curriculum through projects, real life problems, fairs, competitions. Ask your child: what's the importance of this assignment you and I need to do?
You may add more if you like. Each of us has had a special teacher. How do you remember that person?


♥ Braja said...

I think the character of the teacher is important; not that they are influencing children like their "day job," and living a different way. Favorite teacher? Vodka Mom!!

potsoc said...

Having dabbled in teaching and personnel training I tend to agree with your five points. However we have to be careful here. The best teacher I ever had I hated while in his class.
Looking back a few years later I would, had I still been in contact, thanked him warmly because his stern discipline and steady requirements had compelled all of us to develop a sense of organistion and timelyness that the other popular teacher never induced us to do.
I still believe that to be good and popular is nice, but doing a good job is the top priority, not being liked or popular. The litmus test: do the pupils learn something?

jinksy said...

My daughter wanted to be a teacher from the age of four or five. Now she is 41, and still adores the job. I think her students love her almost as much as I do. I reckon that speaks volumes...

Sharon McPherson: AUTHOR / ARTIST said...

A great post!

For years I have considered training to be an English teacher and this is what has held me back:
1 A post-grad in teaching at university still to complete.
2 No one ever explaining really what it is that a teacher does, or skills a teacher needs.
3 Being afraid of the unknown.

Your post has explained everything. Thank you.

Teaching is a huge responsibility. Food for thought. :)

Butler and Bagman said...

I think also, a love of's a too way street.

Brian Miller said...

i think this is a great post adn you have have distilled it well...the teachers i loved were the ones that loved what they were doing. that made the material come alive. that were creative in their approach without losing the essence of what they were teaching.

Polar Bear said...

Your list of teacher traits are universal but rarely spelled out so clearly and simple enough for even a teacher to understand. well done. gold star. polar Bear

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. I plan to post more about the devotees, and our pilgrimages!

marc aurel said...

As a student and often a bad one, I would like to say that the most important lesson the good teachers gave me, was to instill in me the desire to go on educating myself. Both in particular exercises and generally in life. The bad teachers tried to drill me into accepting uninteresting gobs of what appeared to be useless knowledge.

An English Shepherd said...

I am still being taught, I like a kind teacher

Wizz :-)

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Teachers are important, I have two teachers that impacted my life in a big way. Teachers can fill the gaps when parents don't care or see what their own children are capable of.

Monkey Man said...

Do you have any recommendations for home schooling? I would love to hear them....or read them for that matter.

lakeviewer said...

Monkey Man-regarding homeschooling.

I do not recommend home-schooling for most students. If the family is well educated and can provide curriculum depth in all subjects, then one aspect of education is covered. The other aspect, the following rules, the working in teams, the exposure to various points of view, understanding of your fellow humans, as well the actual socializing with peers, this aspect is missed by students who are home-schooled.

Most children benefit from being educated with other children.

In special circumstances, and for a limited time, home-schooling may be an option.

potsoc said...

I entered school, for various reasons too long to explain, at 13. It was very difficult for the others and for me. I must say that I still live the consequences of that even though I had a very satisfactory professional career, socializing was never my forte and at times it drew me back.

Gran said...

"Miss B.," my English teacher in 11th grade, worked me like a dog and gave me encouragement, inspiration, and the guts to keep trying at anything I wanted to do. A history teacher in 10th grade inspired me to get A's because he taught his material with a strange passionate gleam in his eyes that made me want to learn more.

Anonymous said...

My favorite teacher was a brilliant man. I felt he treated us as adults. He read his work to us and made me feel as if I was in some impossible way his peer, yet always remained the complete authority in the class room, earning our respect for his position, his writing, his opinions and the lessons he taught. I will never forget him, Juan Christiansen was his name. I still wonder why he taught at my school, as he seemed to belong in a university, not in a high school.

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

Hummm, how to start a decorating project...I decide on the style and the feeling I want to create. Then I do the shell first, walls, floor, ceiling. Next , I do a floor plan and decide what I need to buy , re-do ect. Then fabric ect. I will be happy to help if you want to ask any questions.

Reya Mellicker said...

Did you see the New Yorker article last week about the "Rubber Room"? Where they send incompetent teachers? Fascinating.

I've always liked the idea of apprenticeships. There's really no such thing as a teacher who is good for everyone, but one-on-one you can get a perfect fit.

Thanks for this!

Natalie said...

For me, it was the teacher who saw that beyond the facade, was an intelligent person begging for encouragement and kindness. xx♥

Beth said...

My favorite teacher didn't smile often and claimed to have eyes in the back of her head. But she could teach! And when she said "Good job", you knew you had earned it.

Hit 40 said...

The ability to see the whole classroom is an important skill. You should be calling on every child. Not just the ones who like to hog the attention.

You also need to be willing to learn new things like technology. A good teacher can dig into a new idea and not just continue to reuse their worksheets from 20 years ago.

I have seen some great rubrics that break down the important skill sets for a quality teacher... collegiality, student rapport, organization,

My concern is who is doing the evaluation? Is it just one person or several? I do not want merit pay to just go to the football coach. I am concerned....

this is what it will boil down to.

Woman in a Window said...

Number four is number one for me. And for my children.

To instill value. We all must recognize our value. I'm not too particular on how it's done, but to be seen, to be recognized, to be~ If my children receive this from a teacher and are able to maintain the belief, therein lies success.

Grade three, Mrs. Waklin. She saw me. I'll never forget her for that.

NitWit1 said...

I am not a teacher, but I had a lot of favorite teachers, and not so favorites.

Since I was older by a few months than most in my class (my birthday fell in October), I seemed more advanced my peers. Further I was a natural born student-most subjects were easy.

I was and still am a goal oriented person, but have the weakness of not pursuing excellence beyond my perceived goal.

Part of this mindset instilled in me was the system, not the teacher.

There were no "advanced" classes, no Gifted and Talented, etc. The only challenge was to "double promote" me. My parents declined for a variety of reasons, but principally I was average in math, but advanced in every other subject.

Gaston Studio said...

I'm not a teacher but those teachers that I learned the most from were just as you described, but firm.

Rob-bear said...

Really appreciate the list you have put together. I know a few teachers -- I should ask them about this.

Thanks for sharing.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"Ability to see the entire classroom, and like a masterful conductor, move around and keep every player engaged to the task at hand."

I like this one best. This is how you can best grab your classroom and then pass on what you can teach.

Just a few days ago realized the teacher that made a difference in my life. 6th grade. Made me feel smart. No one had ever done that before. Why did it take me so long to recognize he was the one who made the difference in my life?

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

I had to re-write that one. Sorry.
I had three teachers that really made an impact on me. They allowed me to do projects on my own and encouraged my creativity. I still think of them and am so greatful. Hope you have a long and leisurely weekend.

Kikit said...

I love this post Rosaria. As a young teacher, I still have so many things to improve. After reading this post, I had to reflect if I'm being a good teacher or not. :)

Dave King said...

Nothing there I'd disagree with, but I suspect the good teacher does it the way others recognise him/her - by instinct. Much of the time, at least.

Mary said...

a good teacher - hmmm - let me see!

A good teacher embraces all the unlikely, indescribable, deeply hidden - yet in your face, hormonally driven, masquerading, rebellious, life changing, value setting, imagination releasing teachable moments. Oh yes, and of course - a good teacher turns up the next day and the next and the next - in spite of poor pay, no lunch breaks, too many yard duties, 'let's rescue my little one' parents, inadequate leadership, fibbing government policies and - did I mention hormones?

How about this one -
"If a learner is learning then a teacher is teaching!"

"If a learner is learning well then a teacher is teaching well!"

Saretta said...

6. Ability to communicate to every child that they are capable of succeeding and have something to offer to the class group.

lakeviewer said...

Thank you for leaving your thoughts here.

Braja--character is so important. Definitely number one!

Paul--Those strict teachers made sure we learned. I had many like that.

Jinksy--Those teachers who love and are loved are indeed lucky to have that gift. Your daughter is among the lucky ones. May she always love what she does.

Sharon--You can't get an explanation that covers everything. The best way is to shadow some good teachers, learn from them. I do hope you get over your fear of the unknown. Life is all about exploring together and learning through our mistakes.

Butler--I don't disagree. But, it is the teacher's job to reach out, to try every which way to engage the learner. We would not give up on our own children, would we?

Brian--Your first statement is really the distillation of everything else:Loving the act of teaching has to be the basis.

Polar Bear--Thank you for the gold star. The concepts are simple; the actual practices are quite complex.

Carrie Wilson--Thanks for stopping by. I hope our visits continue too.

Marc--Excellent: those people who instill love of learning are those we love and remember.

An English Sheperd--A kind person gets our hearts engaged before anything else. How intuitive!

Elizabeth--Yes, we can see how it happens all the time; I have so much gratitude for those people who saw what I could be.

lakeviewer said...

Gran--Even at our age, we can list those people who took us by the hand and showed us how to become better.

Meredith--Mr. Christiansen would appreciate your words. On his behalf, I thank you.

Decorating--You might just be the one to motivate me to get a room to look just the way it ought. Thank you.

Reya--Yes,it was that article about the rubber room in New York that prompted my post. Unfortunately, it happens in every district. The process of terminating a teacher is long, complicated and messy. Many times when people complain about teachers they don't want to be involved any further-they don't want to testify. That leaves the administration few choices. Here in Oregon, we do not have tenure; but, we do have a complex process of improvement efforts.

Natalie--Yes, yes. Good teachers go beyond the facade, the posturing of hormonal youth, and know just when to push, when to cajole, when to encourage.

Beth--You're in the trenches; you could add your own list here. I love your spirit, my dear. Your sense of humor will keep you sane.

Hit 40--Absolutely: technology and new information are most important. Any teacher who recycles old ditto sheets has stopped learning; he/she needs a sabbatical. Are many districts still giving sabbaticals?

Erin--Someone who "sees", really "sees" us changes us forever.

NitWit--You bring up a useful point: the system is geared to work at a certain pace, for the average person. Parents can adjust the lessons at home, work with the school for some alternative assignments. Mostly, the child will feel out of sorts; and that's not good. I do know that schools try to meet needs as best as they can with the resources provided. Many mandated programs are not fully funded.

Jane--There are certain qualities that we all remember about good teachers; firm is among these.

Rob-Bear--I would be interested in what your daughter lists.

Midlife Jobhunter--It might be time for you to change the name of your blog, yes? That analogy-the orchestra conductor- doesn't go with my original concept at all; but I like it too much to dump it. Thanks for noticing it.

lakeviewer said...

Catherine--Yes, yes! Without teachers' encouragements most of us would not have pursued our love.

Kikit--A teacher, like any other professional, becomes better with experience and challenges. Glad to know you chose such a challenge.

Dave King--I do believe instinct is a big element in teaching. Some people lack it; and though they go through the motions, they have not a clue of what's wrong or what's right. It is an art as well as a science.

Mary--You are in the middle of another term; hormonal? You must be teaching older students this term. You are right on all counts. Good to hear from you.

Saretta--Yes, yes, those encouragements go a long, long way. We all need them, especially from teachers.

Renee said...

I think these are wonderful.


Pearl Maple said...

Followed your link from the beach cottage and really enjoyed reading your blog posts.

Teaching is an imporant skill, in addition to children in the classroom, parenting and many vocations need us to bring the skill of teaching but so few of us understand what we need to bring to the role.

Thank you for sharing the inspiration.

abeachcottage said...

g'day, thanks for stopping by my place, glad you tried the scrub...

one of the best teachers I had was at Uni - I was a young mum of three incl. baby, she was a Doctor with about a million years of post grad - the best thing was her encouragement and calmness, it made me see things in a different way past the textbooks

Anonymous said...

The ability to inspire.
The ability to challenge.

Tough to define. I like your list, but I would add and add and add. :)

Anonymous said...

Because connection with real life is the best teaching.

I_am_Tulsa said...

wow! look at all these great comments!

I think your list of 5 should be taped to every teacher's lounge school wall!

lakeviewer said...

Renee--We are all teachers when we show others how to live. You're one of my favorites, my dearest.

Pearl Maple--Welcome! You said it! We need teaching skills everytime we communicate with others, in many jobs, in many situations. I might add, though, that we do have these skills instinctively.

A beach cottage--Thanks for visiting me. I'm certain that your doctor's skills are honed just as teachers' skills are. Reaching out to you and helping you take your role and be successful were her gifts. You noticed how you were affected; and you appreciated her. That appreciation is mutually beneficial.

Michael--Definitely. There are so many attributes needed to be successful at anything. With teachers, those attributes, what Braja calls character, what Paul calls strong spirit I think, someone who teaches on despite everything, what others identify with different words, calmness, patience, encouragement. We also want a teacher to be the perfect human being, in all ways.

Hobo--Thanks for stopping by. Without that connection to real life problems educators will fail many students. Yes, most necessary.

Tulsa--Teachers already have these lists/similar lists. They know when they are successful. They also feel the pressure and struggle to stay vital. The job is getting tougher and tougher.

Sophia said...

I just loved this post. It brought back so many memories for me from when I was attending school. I remember two specific teachers often...ones who were really there for me as a student. I always wonder what happened to them.

Pyzahn said...

I agree with all points but especially with #1. I don't think a lot of teachers are good at engaging their students in the process of learning. I would expand that to say it's a beautiful talent when a teacher can get kids excited about learning, making them want to come back to school everyday.

I think a passion for what they do is also very important. Everyone, especially children, are drawn to those who really love what they do. It shines through and makes the humdrum enjoyable.

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

Appreciate your listing - Yes, children are the primary consumers and therefore are to be respected (not blamed) for their assessments of their experience with particular teachers.

Having been a part of the "system" as an educator since 1960, and having been in private practice as a Holistic Educational Therapist,( since 1983,I most certainly listen to the "truth" about a teacher as it is perceived by the child. The child's perception is that child's "truth." Without blame, judgment, let that "truth" be a starting point for support and understanding of need. Thank you for such an important post!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Renee said...

I want to show this to Angelique and Nathan. If only I could remember from one minute to the next.

Love Renee xoxo

Dimple said...

This is an interesting post, even though I have never been professionally involved in education. My "class" was my two children, and now it is the ladies in the small group I facilitate for a Bible study I am in.
Thank you for visiting my site, and your kind remark about my pictures; I have just recently remembered how much I like photography!

Margo said...

my favorite teachers were often the ones no one else seemed to like very much... kind of the creative, outlier but full of love types. Often they were divergent thinkers, and tied things together and were never boring - I could tell they liked me and saw something in me that teachers for most of my life did not. More traditional type students usually would be thrown because things weren't just "so," but I thrived on that. I would say the most overall important characteristic was their love for each individual student, instead of for a certain way of being. Yes, I was a wee bit challenging :)

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

You my friend are a good teacher and I am sending this to my kids and a few friends of theirs that are all new to teaching...thanks

Renee said...

I think writing and the blog help me to relax. For some reason, it just helps me to think when I blog.


sallymandy said...

I'm late to this discussion, but I appreciate it as my daughter begins another school year.

My favorite teachers simply loved their subjects, and teaching.

Thank you!

Sarah Laurence said...

You must have been a most gifted teacher. My elementary school volunteering gave me the up-most respect for teachers.

#6: passion and energy. My favorite teachers were the ones who clearly loved their job and their subject matter. They spouted enthusiasm and energy. It was contagious. Great post!

Renee said...

You are too clever for me.


Sujatha said...

I think your #4 hits the nail on the head. My son had an absolute gem of a teacher last year in third grade.

Last week when my son found out who his teacher would be this school year, he did a little jiggy, his face broke into a wide grin and he told me, "She is very, very smart." I was taken aback. His teacher taught sixth grade but she is teaching fourth grade this year and I did not think he knew enough to form opinions of that sort. But what do I know!?

Man of Roma said...

I have a less technical suggestion. A good teacher should have a complex & rich vision of things, of the world, and transmit it to his pupils. He should enlighten his pupils with his vision.
Easier to say than to accomplish. But to me the sage, the maître à penser, is THE teacher. Fortunate are the pupils who meet such a person. I know because I did meet a person like that.

Not that I was such a great pupil of him: I lacked discipline, was too whimsical, hard to say. But he left something to all who met him, even to the unworthy.

Man of Roma said...

Pls allow me Rosaria: in this post I better explain what I mean by 'vision' [structure of knowledge, or KS] - even though it is dedicated to multimedia education - and how KSs [a teacher's and pupils'] can communicate.

California Girl said...

I think these are solid criteria and I think the best teachers, the ones who really seem to want to motivate, have these characteristics.

My sons are a year apart but were 2 yrs apart in school (held the youngest back). They often had the same teachers and I found they liked the same ones and disliked the same ones, not always for the same reasons. My impressions were quickly formed as my husband and I made a point of getting to know each teacher, volunteering occasionally and having regular meetings. The disappointing teachers usually had one or more of the following characteristics:

1. they wanted everyone to fit
a round peg
2. they did not deal well with
disruptions (of which my sons
could be at the center, no
3. More than one suggested my
younger son needed to be on
Ridilin or similar
4. Some were tenured, could not
be fired and were going thru
the motions and doing a very
poor job

I would often hear a teacher lament they had too many kids and not enough help e.g. aides. I would also hear alot of complaining about the Special Ed kids but I soon found out the school(s) had extra teachers & aides to work with them.

My children's education has been a great disappointment to me. The oldest one is slogging through college and will finish because he knows he can and it's important. His younger brother, however, does have ADD and has tried two colleges and bailed because he was passed through high school without the necessary fundamental understanding of the classes he was passing. I had my meetings in high school and they were ongoing. I grew weary of only 1 or 2 teachers bothering to show for the meeting. I involved the Principal at one point. He was briefly helpful but had other things on his plate.

I think the system tends to fail those who are not self-starters and or really motivated & smart. It failed my youngest son, who is now 21, confused, self-denigrating and thinks he's going nowhere.

glnroz said...

i have spoken often.."teachers have saved our planet" literally,, thanx for dropping by my site. Kinda new at it. Please feel free to visit anytime.

The Writing Instinct said...

When I think back to my school days the teachers who were calm but in control were the ones who stand out. The ones with enthusiasm, who taught with interest and who held the students' interest were the special ones. Teachers played a major role in my life: one influenced my decision to study science; another, who I am most grateful to is a Mr Eton (RIP), who taught me about the gift of poetry and literature.

Lori ann said...

Full of wisdom and good advice. I do know the influence a good teacher can have on a person's life.
Thank you for this Rosaria.
Oh, and yes, you are right about Harmony.

Snowbrush said...

I was reading a book about the Middle East in which I came across the startling information that a teaching major is what a student pursues AFTER he has washed out in everything else. That COULD explain a few things, eh?

Tessie said...

Hello there! I just stumbled across your blog and I really enjoyed this post. I am a new teacher and just starting to figure things out. I like your point of view on teaching as it fits with everything that I strive to be.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Rosaria, what a teacher you are - I think you need to write to our British politicians... I understand that only around 1 in 20 teachers manages to be an inspiration to their pupils - I find that very sad... Some of the wrong people go into the profession, without a calling to teach; and others have their goodness sapped out of them, perhaps... Without the wonder of some of my teachers, in the pretty deprived neighbourhood in which I grew and occasionally thrived, I would not have gone to University and learned to love so many books... I have many to thank - Especially those who brought literature to life for me, and climbed on the tabletops, or removed a jacket (at the same time a character in the book did) for dramatic emphasis... Thank you for all the teaching you continue to do, dear Rosaria - You have such talent x

A Woman Of No Importance said...

I don't know if I ever mentioned it, but my teachers inspired me to be a teacher myself, and although I've dabbled in bringing learning to friends and peers, I never went into teaching... I'm always a little conflicted about that decision...