Friday, February 22, 2013

What Makes a Great Teacher?

It's hard to believe, but we are already at that point in the school year where principals are looking to hire their necessary staff for the 2013-1014 school year.  Due to the unfortunate budget cuts throughout public education, it is a buyer's market for teachers, which means principals will be faced with a plethora of applicants for virtually every open position.  How do principals go about narrowing the field, interviewing candidates, and choosing the best possible teachers for their students?  What characteristics make a teacher great?  Is being a great teacher innate, or is it a learned skill?  Annette Breaux attempts to answer these questions in her article "Can Anyone Be a Great Teacher?"

Breaux believes that
Though some people definitely possess an innate "gift" for teaching, most great teachers were not born.  They were made!
I believe this to a certain extent, but I will get back to my personal thoughts at the conclusion of this post.

In the blog posting, Breaux identifies many characteristics of effective teachers.  First and foremost, she argues that
At the risk of overstating the obvious, great teachers truly love children!  If you don't love children, you can't be a great teacher. Period.  At the risk of really overstating the obvious, if you don't love children, you shouldn't be in education!
She goes on to discuss characteristics like classroom management skills, subject matter knowledge, positive attitude, embracing change, and setting high expectations.  However, there were two other characteristics that really made an impact on me.

Breaux posits that establishing positive relationships with students is a necessity to be considered a great teacher.  Great teachers...
...subscribe to the belief that in order to teach a student, you must first reach a student.  Thus, they get to know their students on a personal level.
Building relationships is something we have been focusing on in District #1 for the past two years, and I agree that it is paramount to the success of any classroom teacher.  Before the students will learn from you, they have to know that you care about them...and they know when we are faking it!

She also stated that, "Great teachers understand they are actors on a stage."  I still remember one of my high school teachers saying, "I'm not here to entertain you, I'm here to teach you."  Well, if you aren't entertaining, then most likely your students will be bored.  When they are bored, they will not learn.  If there is no learning, then there is no teaching going on.  Absent learning taking place, then a teacher is just talking, not teaching.  The great teachers are some of the best entertainers I know.

In summary, I agree with virtually all of the characteristics of great teachers Breaux identified.  I also agree to some extent that some of these characteristics can be learned.  However, I strongly believe there are certain innate characteristics that a teacher candidate must already possess if they are ever to become great.  In fact, I tell my building principals to look for these three characteristics in any teacher candidate.
  1. Care about kids
  2. Positive attitude
  3. Work ethic
If a teacher candidate has these three characteristics, we can teach them all of the other skills they need to become a great teacher.  However, I have never seen a teacher become great who does not possess these three traits.  Subject-matter knowledge is important, but it can be learned.  Teaching pedagogy is important, but it can be learned.  Classroom management skills are important, but they can be learned.  Caring about kids, being positive, and working hard are innate skills that people either possess or they don't.  The organization cannot teach these skills.  Therefore, we cannot afford to hire educators who don't already possess them, as they are a necessity on the path to becoming a truly "great teacher".

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