Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Makes a Great Teacher?

Came across this article today:  What Makes a Great Teacher in Atlantic Monthly by Amanda Ripley

It's from the Jan/Feb Atlantic Monthly.  The author looks at a number of different teachers and methods that have worked.  It also discusses Race to the Top, which I was not familiar with before.  Have you heard of that?

At the beginning of the article, Ripley highlights a section of kids that an elementary teacher has taught.  Ripley looks at scores compared with other students at the school.  She calls it a 'tale of two boys.'
This tale of two boys, and of the millions of kids just like them, embodies the most stunning finding to come out of education research in the past decade: more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter. 
 She goes on to point out that it does not matter what "school" a student attends.  But rather what "teacher's class" that student would have.
Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools—even supposedly good schools—than among schools.
I think most of us would agree with that assessment.  At our school some students come back after graduation and rave about the preparation they had received.  While others claim they were not as prepared.  Most times they mention individual teachers that got them prepared.  They know that if they have that AP English IV teacher (although they can hate the work load their senior year) freshmen English is a breeze by comparison.

The article also discusses the data mining that Teach for America has done over the past 20 years.  One of the real stunners that they mention is that extracurricular accomplishments in college tend to be a predictor of teacher greatness.  Fascinating.
Things that you might think would help a new teacher achieve success in a poor school—like prior experience working in a low-income neighborhood—don’t seem to matter. Other things that may sound trifling—like a teacher’s extracurricular accomplishments in college—tend to predict greatness.
I really hope that a focus on teacher effectiveness and improvement is the next big thing in educational reform.  It is obvious to me that standardized testing is not the do all and answer for helping students to learn.  They are an important assessment and measuring stick.  Focusing on improving instruction, it seems to me, is the best place to impact all aspects of student learning and results.  It would also be what is needed and what is best for our teachers.  Support, good ideas, and techniques that empower teachers will empower students.  Not just this school year, but for years and years to come.


  1. Definitely, good teachers are predictors of a child's success! Thanks for reminding us that Good Teaching is what we should be striving for.. . . I'm off the read the journal article.


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