A good teacher improves a child’s test scores in the classroom, enhances his or her chances to attend college, increases his or her potential to earn more money and decreases the likelihood of teen pregnancy, according to a 2011 study.
The study, conducted by economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years from a large urban school district from fourth grade to adulthood, making it one of the largest and most consequential educational studies in recent years.
Their findings focus on the long-term impact of teachers based on “value-added??? (VA) ratings, the average test-score gain for his or her students, adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores. Simply put, the difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value??? a teacher added or subtracted during the year.
The study measured both short-term and long-term impact, from the classroom to a student’s collegiate, career and family success. The authors found that when a high VA teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade taught by that teacher; when a high VA teacher leaves, test scores fall.[i]
Study after study shows that the single most important factor in determining the quality of education a child receives is the quality of his or her teacher.
Last month, K-12 Online took a look at how leadership factored into the success of a school. Research revealed that leadership was essential for quality education, but was second only to teaching among all school-related factors that contribute to student performance.
So what makes for a quality teacher? This question is particularly relevant given that researchers have raised concerns about the overall quality of today’s teaching workforce. Teaching is one of the most complicated jobs today! It demands a broad knowledge of subject matters, curriculum, and standards. Teachers must show enthusiasm, a caring attitude, and a love of learning. And they must have knowledge of discipline and classroom management techniques. Most importantly, a quality teacher MUST have the desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Think about your best teachers. Their techniques may have been different, but more than likely, they all had some sort of connective capacity. They were able to connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, and everyone to the subject being studied.
Characteristics of Great Teachers
Here are some characteristics of great teachers. It is not meant to be an all encompassing or definitive list. Many excellent teachers may possess only some of these traits, and consider others not mentioned to be just as valuable. The characteristics detailed below are just a guideline to help teachers create and sustain connectivity in their classrooms – a universal characteristic of great teachers.
Great teachers set expectations of success for all students. Since the famous Rosenthal experiment in the late 1960s, the Pygmalion effect—the observation that teachers’ expectations for their students affect how well students learn—has been well documented.[ii] Great teachers expect that all students can and will achieve in their classroom, and they don’t give up on underachievers. There are so many factors in a students’ life, that it’s impossible for a teacher to guarantee success to all, however, if you give up on your students, adopting a fatalistic, “it’s out of my hands??? attitude, students will sense your lack of commitment and tune out. The main objective for a teacher is to create a climate for success in your classroom to meet the needs of all students. As long as you can unequivocally say that you’ve done that for the day, each and every day, you’ve upheld the expectation for success.
Great teachers have clear, written objectives. Effective teachers have lesson plans that give students a clear idea of what they will be learning, what the assignments are and what the grading policy is. Assignments have learning goals and give students ample opportunity to practice new skills. The teacher is consistent in grading and returns work in a timely manner. The lesson plan serves as a road map and may be altered depending on classroom needs.
Great teachers have a sense of purpose. A RAND study conducted more than 30 years ago[iii] found links between student achievement and teachers’ sense of value—their belief in their students’ ability to succeed, as well as their own ability as teachers to help those students succeed. You can’t be good in a generic sense; you have to be good for something. As a teacher, this means that you know what your students expect, and you make plans to meet those expectations. You, too, have expectations about what happens in your classroom, based on the goals you’re trying to achieve. If you want to prepare your students for employment, you expect punctuality and good attendance. If you want your students to become better readers, you allow time for reading and provide access to books.
Great teachers are prepared and organized. They are in their classrooms early and ready to teach. They present lessons in a clear and structured way. Their classrooms are organized in such a way as to minimize distractions.
Great teachers engage students and get them to look at issues in a variety of ways. Effective teachers use facts as a starting point, not an end point; they ask “why??? questions, look at all sides and encourage students to predict what will happen next. They ask questions frequently to make sure students are following along. They try to engage the whole class, and they don’t allow a few students to dominate the class. They keep students motivated with varied, lively approaches.
Great teachers are comfortable with not knowing. There are going to be dilemmas you cannot immediately resolve, and questions you cannot immediately answer. It’s okay to not know, to be open to letting your students tell you the answer, and to understand that learning never stops, even for the teacher. If you can live with an unanswered question, think and observe, the answer may develop in an unexpected, unconventional way.
Great teachers adapt and change to meet student needs. Can you really claim to have taught a class if no one learned any of the concepts in the lesson from your presentation? If none of your students ever pick up a book outside of the classroom, have you really taught them to be better readers? A great lesson plan and a great lesson are two entirely different things. It’s nice when one follows the other, but it doesn’t always work that way. Teachers teach so that students may learn. When learning doesn’t happen, you need to be willing to devise new strategies, think in new ways, and generally do anything possible to revive the learning process.
Great teachers form strong relationships with their students and show that they care about them as people. Great teachers are warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. Teachers with these qualities are known to stay after school and make themselves available to students and parents who need them. They are involved in school-wide committees and activities, and they demonstrate a commitment to the school.
Great teachers are masters of their subject matter. They exhibit expertise in the subjects they are teaching and spend time continuing to gain new knowledge in their field. They present material in an enthusiastic manner and instill a hunger in their students to learn more on their own.
Great teachers communicate frequently with parents. They reach parents through conferences and frequent written reports home. They don’t hesitate to pick up the telephone to call a parent if they are concerned about a student.
Great teachers know how to live with ambiguity. One of the greatest challenges of teaching is the lack of immediate, accurate feedback. There is no way to predict what the long-term results of your work will be. But if you have a sense of purpose and try to cultivate expectations of success for all students, you will be less likely to dwell on that unpredictability, and focus on how you can impact them today.
Great teachers enjoy their work and their students. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to lose sight of its importance. Teachers who enjoy their work and their students are motivated, energized, and creative. The opposite of enjoyment is burnout-the state where no one and nothing can spark any interest. Notice, too, that enjoying your work and enjoying your students may be two different things. Focusing too much on content may make students feel misunderstood or left out. Focusing exclusively on students, without an eye to content, may make students feel understood and appreciated, but may not help them to achieve their educational goals as quickly as they’d like. Achieving a balance between the two extremes takes time and attention; it demands that you observe closely, evaluate carefully, and act on your findings.
Great teachers are reflective. Outside of a teacher having the desire to make a difference in the lives of their students, this may be the only infallible, absolute characteristic of all great teachers, because without it, none of the other traits can fully mature. Good teachers routinely think about and reflect on their classes, their students, their methods, and their materials. They compare and contrast, draw parallels and distinctions, review, remove and restore. Failing to observe your class on a regular basis disconnects you from the teaching and learning process and it’s impossible to create connectivity if you’re disconnected.
Great teachers have the ability to connect with students. Cornelius-White conducted a meta-analysis of research on teacher-student relationships and found that teachers’ warmth, empathy, and “nondirectivity??? strongly correlated to higher levels of student participation, motivation, and achievement.[iv] Great teachers understand that teaching is not a static state, but a constant process. Great teachers are imaginative and expect their students to be, too. They meet students where they are, but ask them to reach higher. They love their subject, and find ways to draw their students in.
No one can comprise all of the above attributes but every teacher has a new opportunity each day to become a better teacher. Great teachers are the ones who seize more opportunities than they miss!
Do you know a Great Teacher? Nominate them to win $500! Deadline for nominations and voting is December 31. Click here for details.
[i] Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Jonah Rockoff. “The Long-term Impacts of Teaching,??? NBR Working Paper Series (No. 17699),??? National Bureau of Economic Research. (December 2011)
[ii] Hattie, J, Visible learning. London: Routledge. (2009).
[iii] Armor, D., Conroy-Oseguera, P., Cox, M., King, N., McDonnell, L., Pascal, A., et al., “Analysis of the school preferred reading programs in selected Los Angeles minority schools (Report No. R-2007-LAUSD),??? RAND. (1976).
[iv] Cornelius-White, J. “Learner-centered teacher-student relationships are effective: A meta-analysis,??? Review of Educational Research. (2007).