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How Are Good Teachers Made?


According to the editors of Education Week's Quality Counts 2006 report, the standards movement in education has generated numerous efforts to assure greater teacher quality over the past 10 years. Those include changes in teacher-education and licensure requirements, new subject-knowledge expectations, incentives for professional development, and evaluations of student performance. Yet a great deal of debate—and even frustration—remains over what exactly makes an effective teacher and how teacher quality can be measured?

What's your view? What are the attributes of effective teachers? How best can strong teaching be fostered on a broad scale? If you were a politician, what sort of teacher-quality measures would you propose?


The standards are stifling a lot of creative teachers from producing work that is productive and reaches many non-traditional learners. It can also help those teachers who like structure and know what is expected in a curriculum. As with everything else, we need to strike a balance. Allowing standardized testing as high-stakes, is not striking a balance.

Whenever I ask the question of "What are the traits of an effective teacher?" regardles of the audience, I receive the same answers. Kindness, consideration, caring, and many other words from the affective domain. Somewhere on the list someone will state Knowledgeable of their subject area. This exercize always opens the eyes of many people on the importance of the trait that many of us in the "helping" professions led us to what we chose to do with our lives. But it is important not to leave it right there. Being kind and considerate and knowing your subject area is not enough to be truly effective. The effective teachers needs indepth knowledge of both subject and pedagogy. They need to understand learning theory, child development, and learning styles. They need a repertoire of instructional Strategies. They need to be reflective practitioners, but most importantly they need to take reponsibilty and insure that learning takes place. It is our vission, our mission, our goal, it is our "job" regardles of the circumstances that the children bring with them to the classroom to find a way to prepare thes children to reach their potential. Measuring teacher quality by looking at students' performances on one high stakes test is not the answer. We need to look at the performances of the students throuhout the school year. Using Authentic Alternative Assessments like projects, reports, presentations and portfolio assessments would show the real progress of the student and thus the effectiveness of the teacher. This would not be easy or inexpensive but if we really believe that leaving "No Child Behind" is important we have no other choice.

Good teachers are made from the passion that comes from within them. We can talk about testing but if you don't have a teacher that has passion and enthusiasm, all the testing in the world is not going to make a difference for the students.

Good teachers love their subject.
Great teachers love kids and their subject.
Outstanding teachers love engaging kids to love their subject too.

I attend seminars for journalists who cover education, and they continually ask this question. And, frighteningly, many "experts" answer that it's something intangible that makes a good teacher. I disagree. After teaching high school for 4 years and getting a sense of who the quality teachers around me were, I'd offer these characteristics:

a teacher who has a strong system in place in her classroom -- students know what to expect daily in terms of class routines and structure

strong knowledge of and passion for subject matter

reflective -- continually evaluates self as teacher

curious -- continually seeks professional information about pedagogy, curriculum, subject matter, etc.


nurturing but also carves out a clear authority role that separates him/her from the students, i.e., teacher is not the students' friend

strong classroom management -- consistent, can say "no" to kids without waffling, etc.

puts the kids first versus clamoring for the "best" classes to teach because she's "paid her dues"

seeks advice from and collaborates with colleagues

A good teacher strives to better themselves every single day. They stay up to date with new techniques and methodologies. They never complain about their difficulties, they simply look for solutions.
They inspire their students to motivate themselves, to expect more of themselves and to be passionate about learning.
I am grateful to have spent time in the classrooms of those who are "good teachers".
Unfortunately, inspiring some teachers to become "good teachers" is not an easy task.
I think the most important thing is to give teachers ongoing support, not just a seminar or workshop here and there. The support can come from supervisors or peer groups meeting on a regular basis. Especially new teachers who need particular assistance with classroom management.

Opinions about the attributes of effective teachers are legion – what works for one often doesn’t quite work for another. Attributes should be assessed by the results of schooling – higher achievement (especially with minority groups), better attendance, fewer violence incidents, fewer dropouts, more college enrollments, etc.

Strong teaching can be fostered by ensuring that teachers have more control over their work situation – empowerment, if you like – so that those closest to the needs have the resources to meet them.

As a politician, I’d forget about teacher-quality measures and work toward decentralization of school districts, so that individual schools can receive 95% of the per-pupil allowances they qualify for (rather than allowing district bureaucracies to dish out the funds). This send-the-money-to-the-schools approach (and all it implies regarding personnel, training, supplies, maintenance, etc.), along with some good public assessment measures, should do the job in most cases. Schools that can’t succeed, even with the resources in-hand, should probably be reorganized. Start at the state-level by passing laws that allow schools to opt into independent status on a voluntary basis (by, say, an 80% approval vote of the staff). Crank up the results-assessment powers of states and districts, and watch what happens. If this is the way to get improvement, it should be apparent in five years or less.

A great teacher is a great planner and observer of students. You need to know the kids in your classroom and plan lessons that take them from where they are right now to where they need to be by the end of the year. A great teacher employs the skills that they have, learns new skills from training or other teachers, and continuously looks at their own methods for improvement. A great teacher is never satisfied with the status quo and continuously seeks to improve themselves and others.

Two years ago I successfully completed the National Board Certification Process and that has made a significant difference in my teaching. While I can't say say that I am the "best teacher ever" as a result, I think the Board's 5 core propositions: committment to students and their learning, knowing the subjects they teach and how to teach them, responsibility for managing and monitoring learning, thinking systematically about their practice/learning through reflection and being members of learning communities are hallmarks of sound teaching. For more information about the process, go to nbpts.org-it's definitely worth your time!

Though all of the above attributes of good teachers are true, there still seems to be something missing within our education system. As a teacher, I have been frustrated by the isolation that one experiences within the current system. It seems we could improve student performance if we had more of a team approach within the schools. Right now, where I teach, there is very little collaboration between teachers to discuss student progress and provide thoughtful, specific mentoring with adequate follow up so that both the student(s) and teacher(s) can be successful. This cannot be accomplished when teachers are "out the door" 45 minutes after the children are gone.

What would happen if we extended our day so that it included specific collaboration time where teachers could reflect together on successes and failures and gain ideas, support and encouragement from mentors and peers? I know that this type of collaboration is happening in some places, but there is little consistency. I would be interested in hearing if other teachers are experiencing this kind of support, and if so, is it effective?

Teachers who are effective think outside the box and create learning experences for thier students that are not out of a text book or can be exaclty measured in a standard test. Think about a teacher who change your life....I bet it was not b/c they were able to make your standarized test scored higher. We need to evaluate teachers through thier actual works on students and how they ingage them in wanting to learn and be a better person. How to evaluate them? Observing thier classes...talking with student...attendence...and very last grading and tests. This would be an accuarate way of measuring effective teacher. Not test scores....b/c I want adults that can think and make it in the real word to be productive human beings....not just able to do well on a test. That proves nothing about making it in the real word of work.

Frank McCourt's career in the classroom serves as a case study of what is the essence of inspired teaching. It is certainly not blind reliance on pedagogical strategies, despite what is being shoved down teachers' throats in the name of standards. "Teacher Man," his No. 1 non-fiction best seller, answers the question better than anyone else can.

Almost all children can be taught to read Proficiently (in the NAEP sense) by English-appropriate instruction. Unfortunately, neither Explicit/Intensive/Systematic/Synthetic/Analytic/ Analogic Phonics nor Whole Language--nor any combination of them--is English-appropriate.

The following are two of the basic challenges in education:
1. Too many students fail to master the current curricula, and

2. If they did master the current curricula, they would still have serious gaps in their preparation for a quality job in this country or elsewhere, in an increasingly open and highly competitive world.

Therefore, we need teachers who can put existing subjects across to students in a simple and stimulating way.

And we also need teachers (the same teachers?) who are willing to learn and teach new subjects like: effective personal communications (listening, reading, reasoning, speaking, writing), basic math & money management, pre-engineering, current issues and choices, requirements for effective team work, etc.

With a constructive and cooperative attitude we should be able to succeed and generate enthusiasm, in spite of some entrenched and defensive interests.

John Shacter; engineer, management consultant, and educator
Kingston, TN [email protected]

One of the main attributes necessary for effective teachers is a respect for the children. Some teachers don the attitude of "I am the teacher, so I know the stuff, and you are the student, so you can't know the stuff" I am exaggerating some, but you get the ides.

Teachers who demonstrate respect for thier students, value the input from students, practice consistency, and take the time to learn thier material and thier craft.

Teachers who demonstrate respect for thier students will also treat thier job as a profession and consequently hold themselves out as professionals.

How can we make effective changes on a broad scale? The answers are so many, but to start with we need better training programs and much better continuing professional education. Mentoring programs and real student teaching is a must.

On study after study we find that teachers who are respectful towards thier students teach well and the students consequently do better on standardized tests - regardless of the style.

Teachers who care make effective teachers!
Teachers who are willing to give 100%, even though they acknowledge that their pay is too low for too little. I am sick of seeing and hearing about verbally abusive teachers who are allowed to continue in this hollowed profession...and yes, I believe teaching is a hollowed profession - second only to ministry. If you don't have the calling, don't do it.
Children KNOW when teachers could care less about them as a person and they perform accordingly.

Good teachers are made when they first experience the joy of learning and creating as students themselves, and then maintain that enthusiasm as life long learners. Teachers like that are motivated to figure out what their students need to know and how best to engage them in learning and doing, thereby bringing them to the joy of discovery and achievement. If the teacher never experienced this joy, or isn't able to maintain it as an adult, s/he will have a slim chance of orchestrating it in his or her students. For too many teachers and students, school is drudgery.My best teachers could have taught me about anything, because their enthusiasm was contagious.

I have always thought that questions such as this would show more about the teacher than the effectivness of the method. Knowledge of the subject matter is important, and creativity and passion. Yet some students will be turned on by one teacher and not another. Some say the teacher must adjust to different learning styles. That is always good.

The most important thing is that new teachers get the chance to do apprentice work with many established teachers so that the individual talent can emerge with options, and that classroom organization can be achieved. As for teaching kids, cut the nonsense. Teach them haw to make good grades--It's a game. Teach them survival as well as your subject.

We can agree with most of the qualities mentioned: content knowledge, enthusiasm, passion, creative, etc. However, these terms are too global to be really helpful in the classroom. For example, enthusiasm can be displayed with diverse behaviours and body language. Research has not quite done down to these micro-levels, and even if we try, we will end up with a catalogue of isolated behaviours that are not easy to apply at individual cases. This holistic-idiosyncratic debate needs further exploration.

All the personal qualities that are listed are great. We all need to be kind and caring and know our curriculum. But there is another quality that is absolutely necessary - not the ability to be a good teacher, but the ability to teach. Students constantly tell me that they really like a teacher, but that teacher can't explain things in such a way that it becomes clear to students. I'm not even sure that can be taught. Some people just teach and do it well. I have a class of 9-12 students, all honors, and the leaders can't teach. We always ask one of the ninth graders to explain to the class because he can break down the information into understandable units and communicate the information in a way that doesn't make others feel stupid. That is an incredible skill, and not one that I have ever seen taught at an ed school.

We seem to agree that there needs to be a balance between the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of good teaching. I love that folks recognize the value of enthusiasm, passion for both subjects and children, and the necessity to understand both pedagogy and content.

What I have not yet heard discussed is that a good teacher needs to be able to recognize student learning. What is student learning? How do you recognize when it is happening? What best instills that learning in any given subject area? The debates that rage around measuring teacher quality generally rest on the difference of agreement as to what constitutes student learning (is it the response to a test item, the ability to produce a product of some sort, the students' or parents' acknowledgement that good learning has occurred, teacher instinct?) This is why teaching is tricky to measure. Student learning and student benefit is difficult to adequately measure and we do not yet agree on the proofs of learning.

In terms of what changes we need to make to help produce quality teachers, I believe the most important changes need to be directed at respect and voice for teachers, and building an administrative layer that understands and respects student learning. I will know this has happened when our best and brightest students are fighting to get accepted into teaching colleges (like they do in Finland) and when my school office refrains from calling me in the middle of instruction to ask nonemergency questions related mostly to paperwork tasks. These measures tell me exactly where our true priorities lie.

It take patience and skill to be an effective teacher. No one can do this without the proper training and and dedication to the job.
Other qualities include being able to take constructive advice when a lesson was not done well or could have been done better. Listening to your team and respecting their view points. These are skills that most people do not have let alone teachers. Don't get me wrong it is a hard skill to master. I have to still work at it.

A good teacher is one who cares about students, the subject area taught, and about the profession. A good teacher is reflective, seeks input and training, is responsive to students, parents, and colleagues, and is respected. A good teacher displays leadership in school, in the profession, and in the community. A good teacher knows the value of hard work and expects it from themselves and from students. A good teacher is a collaborator, a coach, a mentor, a manager, and a friend.

Good teachers are those who know themselves first of all. Therefore they have the ability to accept themselves and know how to accept others. The good teachers do not have to be aggressive witht their students. They give respect therefore they get respect. They enjoy their jobs and excited about being with the students, as a result the students are excited and connect with that teacher. The students in a good teacher classroom have a sense of belonging to that classroom!

Like fireman, great teachers are the last of the unsung heroes. We don't walk into a blaze of fire, but we walk into the fire of educational service. It is my opinion that great teachers are created by an individual need to perform the service of transformation. It is a commitment that one has to want to make a difference in the lives of people thus transforming our society for the better. Many teachers have the desire but not the inner flame or inner commitment to want to perform and perform well. However big or small the bullseye is on our back, and it is indeed there, quality teachers will perform greatly, like the fireman. In a very strenuous and often times not appreciated profession. Through this commitment students lives are forever changed not only through grades, but by individuals showing civility in their communities, however harsh, and making a difference in our world. So hats off to the Last of the Unsung Heroes, our great teachers.

I'm a bilingual teacher working in City that 57% of the students are Spanish. I'm
Spanish myself, and I can say that knowing the culture is as important that knowing the curriculum. Emphaty,understanding,and respect for each of one of my students, make my job a little easier every day. A good teacher; perhaps should be someone who don't judge a student for being different, and a good teacher should have great expectations for every student.

I'm a bilingual teacher working in a City that 57% of the students are Spanish. I'm
Spanish myself, and I can say that knowing the culture is as important that knowing the curriculum. Emphaty,understanding,and respect for each of one of my students, make my job a little easier every day. A good teacher; perhaps should be someone who don't judge a student for being different, and a good teacher should have great expectations for every student.

Teaching is like being a parent. You want to be their friend, but that isn't your job. Your job is to teach and mold these children/students into productive adults. It's not always a pretty job, however when you see the lightbulb go off in their heads the reward is wonderful. A good Teacher is one who not only commands and gets respect in the classroom, but gives it in return.

We all know that in today's society you cannot just be a teacher. You, instead are, a parent, a friend, a role model....the list goes on. Today schools are given an extra set of responsibilities that are not exactly spelled out, but are expected. So unless you are up for the challenge and your heart can take it, you will have a hard time looking in the mirror at the end of the day and truly being able to say..."I am a good teacher!" Not to mention the highly qualified professional stand point. Let's face it...Standard based education is a trend that does not appear to be going anywhere. So instead of trying to mold your lessons into a standard, look at the standard and ask yourself, "what do the students need to know? And how am I going to be able to tell if they know it (assessment?"

What makes an effective teacher is one who knows what is to be taught. But the most inportant part is that they care and want what is best for their stusents. I am in the process of becoming a teacher beause of my 7th grade English thacher who took an interest in me. She know that I could do the work but did not have the help and support at home. The teachers how taught me the most were the ones who were firm yet made the learning enjoyable. School was the best when the teachers made it a challenge. When school was not a challenge my mind would check out. I do sone substituting and the sutudents do not like when the teacher just gives busy work. Right now I work at a local business and want to teach sutdents to be prepard to go out into the work palce. Teachers make school a challenge for all your stedents no matter their learning ability.

A good teacher becomes quite involved with his/her classroom, and has firm control over the children with reason. They also go above and beyond to teach the kids and try to help them grow, caring about their grades and conduct.
They are appreciative of the help they get from the room parents or others who donate Item's.

A bad teacher tells his/her class things verbally ad emotionally to "scare" them into being quite, and instill fear into them. My kids teacher told his class when they were talking and being disruptive, "I can put you all in summer school," when one child said "no you can't" she said "oh yes I can, I can fill out some papers,"

I was not happy to hear this, as well as one boy, who has no friends, never says a word, she has told the other student's "he is the BEST student"
and gets to do things even that other kids who are not talking do not.
That is what I call a bad teacher.

When I was going through school 20 years ago, most of the teachers I had were true teachers. They taught because they loved kids, wanted to make a difference and they loved to teach. They did not teach because they had summers, weekends, snow days and some holidays off or because it is just a paycheck. They were well educated on the subjects they taught, but they also knew that to reach a child you had to have a heart and compassion. They knew school was the only place some kids received that heart and compassion. They did what they could to ensure their students remembered them in a good way...not in a negative or destructive way.

I am sending my son through the same school district I attended and from which I graduated 15 years ago. Not only have the teachers' faces changed, so have their dedication to and reasons behind teaching. I will say there are a handful of teachers still teaching this school system who were there when I went through, but they are slowly disappearing every year. Now, I am running into teachers who do not want parent involvement (some even resent it), nor do they know how to treat a child with the same respect they demand out of that child. They are not compassionate, nor are they kind. They yell, degrade and are hateful. They treat each child the same because they have not figured out what teachers 20 years ago knew...each child is different and a good teacher is willing to act on that and treat them accordingly. They haven't figured out a kind word goes a lot further than name calling or degrading a student. They haven't figured out what they say and do now can have a profound and lasting affect on these kids. What makes a good teacher? Someone who had the education, yes. But they also need a heart, a kind soul, compassion, understanding, the ability to be firm when necessary but to laugh whenever they can...most of all they need to remember that what they say to a child today can affect that child for the rest of their life. I can tell you the names of every teacher that touched my heart throughout my school years...but I can, more quickly, name the teachers who were degrading and negative toward me and I can tell you the specific instances as to why.

A teacher's or professor's fuzzy thinking and feeling will not €PREPARE OUR YOUNGSTERS FOR SUCCESS AND QUALITY LIFE IN AN EVER WIDER OPEN COMPETITIVE WORLD.
(If that is not the main mission of "education" -- what is?)

But we cannot ask our educators or educators' educators to teach subject matter that no one has bothered to teach them.


John Shacter; engineer, consultant and active educator of classes at all grades, including colleges. [email protected]

An effective teacher is one who looks at the students and sees the possibilities within each and every child. The effective teacher knows their students - their learning styles, abilities, gaps, strengths... and is able to teach to that child. A truly effective teacher has students who LEARN. Unless the students learn, the teacher is not effective. So, pushing the students beyond what they thought they could do, challenging them, and learning from them constitutes a part of effective teaching. The bottom line is knowledge gained, plus the ability to use and demonstrate that knowledge .

Effective teachers know their subject and communicate it to their students in an effective and understandable manner. Effective teachers have their students at heart, recognize the abilities and intelligence of their students and inspire those students to achieve to their potential. Such teachers are humble, open to learning and ground their pedagogy on student needs. They not only transmit knowledge but constantly evaluate their teaching and student learning. Effective teachers strive to instil confidence in their learners and therefore motivate, nurture and empower students. The list can be endless not forgetting professional integrity.

As, a parent, I want my children to go to school and say, " I wonder what we'll get to learn today?" As a teacher, I want school to be an opportunity for my students to experience and learn things they never knew about before. As a parent and a teacher,I expect the adults to care and protect every child, so that our children learn how to be caring adults. A good teacher cherishes the opportunity to help the children mature emotionally, academically, and socially.

As parents, we would love to find teachers who aren't burnt out, verbally abusive, and always screaming at the kids (even for petty things). When this is coupled with one who uses words like "stupid," "dummy," "idiot" to refer to students in front of their peers or one who routinely likes to humiliate kids in class for things that aren't their fault (like speech impediments), it can have a devastating effect on that child's future success in school....trust me on this. We're still fighting the effects of just such a teacher with our LD (Asperger's) son.
Beyond that, I'd like to see harder certification standards, merit pay, and teachers who graduated at the top of their class, as well as teachers who are proficient in English. With all the immigration, there has been a need to hire bi-lingual teachers which I understand but some of the ones I've met were not even proficient in ENglish and were TEACHING mixed classes (ESOL as well as native born).

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