What makes a great teacher?

I’ve just read an illuminating piece by Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic called ‘What makes a great teacher‘. Although the article details the American experience, the message about teachers and teaching is universal.

For more than a decade, Teach for America has been looking at the data on what makes teachers successful – that is the difference between the teachers who improve student learning gains and those who can’t. This article is compulsory reading for parents and teachers because it is referenced back to data not opinion and perception.

As parents arm themselves with MySchool data, ready to tackle principals of low performing schools, the paragraph below should be signposted at the front of every school in Australia:

Parents  have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adults stands in front of their children. Teacher quality tends to vary more within schools-even supposedly good schools-than among schools.

But we have never identified excellent teachers in any realiable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognise and revere – but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.

I asked some of my colleagues what they believe makes a great teacher – their responses are below. Interesting to see how it compares with Teach for America’s findings.

  • passion / fun
  • engagement
  • compassion
  • patience
  • knowledge
  • personality
  • relentless
  • relationships
  • learner
  • collegial

2 thoughts on “What makes a great teacher?

  1. hi , thanks for raising this issue.I’m ateacher in Morocco and I say that the primary quality of a good teacher is the vocational love for the profession.A lot of teachers have failed simply because they feel bad when they find themselves inside a classroom with a lot of profiles to display and several roles to play.many of them quit early .

    1. Yes, it is passion that keeps teachers looking forward. I also believe that we need to re-examine how we are training teachers. University gives beginning teachers a theoretical base but it is as you say, more important to understand the dynamics of classrooms and to be able to reflect and improve on one’s practice.

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