How to make a good teacher

I’ve been an Economist subscriber for years, so when I saw this week’s front cover on my doormat this evening, I thought, that looks interesting.

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But before reading it, I decided to list my own views on the subject.  So, top-of-mind, here they are:

1, Subject knowledge

This is not about knowing your subject to a particularly high level, it’s about instinctive understanding of all the topics and sub-topics and how they relate to each other and what your typical Year 7 finds hard vs. your typical sixth-former.  I think this applies to primary equally. I don’t believe graduates with a first are necessarily better teachers than those with a 2:2 (so why on Earth we would incentivise recruitment to teacher training on this basis is beyond me).  You need solid subject knowledge and you also need to have a thirst for continually developing that.  I’ve been teaching Maths for 5 years and I still find new approaches to topics nearly every day. I hope that never stops.

2, A supportive environment with time to develop

Teachers need to work in an environment (i.e. staff + management) that believes that every teacher can always get better. Teachers need to buy into this and genuinely feel that they are not being judged on the quality of their teaching. Only then will they embrace a culture of continuous professional development (i.e. CPD).  There is, and always will be, a very small percentage of teachers who are in the wrong job and there needs to be a way of easing them out. But the place to start is with an assumption that all teachers care about their students and are motivated to be a good teacher. They have a finite amount of time and energy to expend on achieving that so they need to be given time in the school day and timetable to develop professionally. Structures around mentoring, co-planning and peer observation need to be in place. But fundamentally there needs to be less contact time to ever achieve this, something that we are nowhere near in the UK currently.

3, School systems that support teachers in classroom management

I’m going to make a bold statement with limited hard evidence: Too much time in too many classrooms is spent on behaviour and discipline. Learning of students in those classrooms suffers as a result. At least in Maths teaching in the UK that is my view.  A key part of teaching is getting children who would prefer not be there to engage in learning. Most children have some motivation to learn and it is the teachers’ job to leverage this as best they can.  However, there will always be certain learners in certain classes on certain days who, for whatever reason, are simply not ready to learn. For the sake of the teacher and the other learners there has to be alternative provision when this happens.  There have to be mechanisms to get those children out of that classroom quickly before the impact is more widely felt.

What would your list look like? I’d love to know.  In meantime, I’m now going to read that article…


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