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Students' Perceptions of Teacher Quality

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This guest post by John R. Jones, Ed. D.* and Misty Henry* reveals the findings of their research which spaned a ten-year period in which they gathered data from over 17,000 students from the fifth through the twelfth grade.

Can there be excellence in the classroom without first-rate teachers? We can change our curriculum, buy more materials, change the physical environment, give more standardized exams, but without quality teachers all the change in the world will not produce the desired effect. The desired effect must promote greater depths of student learning. Everyone seems to be looking for a "silver bullet;" that special program that will captivate students and arouse them to greater levels of academic achievement. Those of us who understand teaching know the teacher is the "silver bullet".   

Today, schools are under tremendous pressure to improve student achievement and sometimes at the expense of failing to help teachers get better at instruction. It seems the emphasis is placed on lack of student achievement and not on its remedy.   

The pressure that is applied has been driven from several sources, but mostly from state and federal mandates. Schools are being asked to prepare students who can demonstrate mastery. This is needed today more than ever, but mandates are lacking in their ability to really address the issue and especially, how students learn.  

Teachers must be allowed to guide students in ways that will allow them to make connections to their learning. Students are telling us they are unable to make these connections, because everything seems to be structured on teaching content and then immediately testing students on what was taught. We must stop searching for short-term solutions, that is, every quick-fix that is available.  It is time we realize our problems in education, require long-term solutions, such as teacher focused professional development that leads to instructional improvement. Our research in this area and our years in this profession of observing teachers, and students, tell us that quality instruction leads to better depths of student achievement, not programs or mandates. You might say that instruction is the heart of learning.

If instruction is the heart of learning, then how do we know if quality instruction is taking place? Test scores cannot be the sole indicator. We have looked at teaching from every possible venue; from teachers who are professionally prepared by colleges of education to those who have been prepared through alternative routes. It is not so much the route of preparation as it is the quality of the preparation. 

One crucial perspective, and one that is seldom considered, is what students are saying about quality instruction. Our research regarding this tells us schools rarely listen to or even value what students say about teacher quality, but there are some who do. 

One school that allows its students to advise and even rate their teachers is George Mitchell School in London, England. According to Wilce (2006), Students observe and critique lessons, and make suggestions to teachers regarding how they could improve their teaching. Teachers use this information to improve their instruction. Changes made by teachers because of student comments have provided an overall growth in student achievement. All of this was accomplished without legislative mandates and the cost was negligible, but results have been enormous.  

Our research spans a ten-year period in which we gathered data from over 17,000 students from the fifth through the twelfth grade. A survey listing 15 teaching behaviors was administered to these students.  Students indicated on the survey if teachers exhibited the behaviors that promoted their learning. The results suggest that teachers needed to improve in each of the 15 teacher behaviors. 

The results are significant and say a lot, but more so, the results say state and federal mandates are missing out on what, at least students are telling us is essential to their learning.  

Significant Findings from Study

Students felt their teachers needed to:

  1. Give directions that we understand
  2. Provide feedback to us regarding performance
  3. Organize content for sequential presentation
  4. Use variable instructional methods when presenting content
  5. Slow down so we have time to apply what we have learned  
  6. Determine what resources are needed to enhance our learning
  7. Provide sufficient time for us to discuss what was taught 

It is important to note out of the 15 teaching behaviors, 10 of them relate specifically to time on task.  It is a tragedy that we have allowed so many students to slip through the cracks. This research tells us that students should be afforded more time to spend on content and they need to openly discuss it, and teachers should be allowed to spend the time necessary to make sure students do learn what is being taught.  

As professional educators, we believe teachers do want to spend more time with students, but the stress which they are under by mandates, to make sure they cover content, and then test to see if students learned it, is out of balance; and we wonder why students have difficulty learning and retaining what they have been taught.  It's time to address this in a logical manner so teachers can teach for content mastery and so students have the freedom and the time it takes to fully understand and are able to apply what they learned.   

*John R. Jones, Ed. D., is currently Clinical Associate Professor of Educational Leadership in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma, He has 46 years of experience in education and 30 of those years have been in public school and higher education administration. He can be contacted at [email protected] 

*Misty Henry is a teacher at Putnam Heights Elementary School in Oklahoma City and she currently teaches second grade and gifted and talented students. She is currently completing her Master's Degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Oklahoma and plans on completing her doctorate. She can be contacted at [email protected]

References:
Wilce, H.  (2006). The school where pupils rate their teachers, The Independent Online Edition. Retrieved October 16, 2017 from University of Oklahoma, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Web site: http://www.education.independent.co.uk/schools.article345645.ece  

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by airunique courtesy of Pixabay  

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