What makes a great teacher?

The Insight Program on SBS recently asked the question ‘what makes a great teacher and can you measure teacher effectiveness?’

I don’t believe we currently measure teacher quality or effectiveness well because we don’t have consensus yet around what makes a great teacher.  In addition to this, the world has changed and what we expect of good teachers is very different from what was required in an industrial age.

I was disappointed with the program because it missed a good opportunity to engage with the critical issues and challenges. I was surprised that so many audience members believed teachers were great.  Great people yes but what about great educators? 

Unfortunately, we confuse great teaching with being nice and undoubtedly most teachers are when you rate them against this criteria.  However, if we asked whether these teachers continually improve learning outcomes for all students, the response may be different.

We have many good teachers who work diligently but unfortunately don’t improve learning outcomes.  Many times this is because they fail to understand the nature of today’s world, how today’s students learn and the appropriate pedagogies needed.

A good teacher needs deep discipline knowledge,  deep pedagogical knowledge and adaptability – to be able to learn from your own practice and your peers. 

Many teachers have good discipline knowledge but with access to vast amounts of information, can teachers ever deepen their knowledge? The point is if you don’t understand the art and science of teaching, you can’t make a significant difference to learning and the learner.

It’s difficult to open your practice to other professionals, to question your pedagogical capability and then to change if necessary.  This level of maturity is difficult to find but when you do you know you’ve got a great teacher.

3 thoughts on “What makes a great teacher?

    1. Jeannie – no disagreement on this one.

      As John Dewey wrote in the 1900s – “in this school, the life of the child becomes the all-controlling aim. All the media necessary to further the growth of the child centre there. Learning? Certainly, but living primarily, and learning through and in relation to this living.”

  1. Well articulated, Greg. I particularly like your application of the words ‘art’ and ‘science’ to teaching, since good teaching blends the two so well.

    Perhaps it’s about using the science to better understand the art?


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