Does Good Teaching Matter?

September 9th, 2011

I would hope be hard pressed to find someone who truly believed that ‘good’ teaching didn’t matter in today’s schools. If that were the case, none of us would be taking this course, and certifications would be given out to anyone who displayed basic interest and passed a background check. The rigorous training for prospective teachers, both in the traditional academic and alternative routes, contradicts this possibility. The hours and work being logged by experts around the country to improve teachers’ professional growth and accountability with PLCs, Professional Development Plans, and continued education courses prove that America cares who is teaching our children. However, what qualifies as good teaching may cause a much larger debate. More and more, having consistent, widespread high scores on standardized tests is the hard and fast sign of a good teacher. Without a doubt, those teachers do matter in the school system, as they well should. However, does the teacher who excels academically, who has a steel grip on and passion for their subject, matter? What about the teacher who makes students care, who challenges them to grow, even if they don’t achieve the same scores as others? Finally, what about those who work against the most challenging factors, inclusion, ESL, or low income, when it comes to standardized tests?
Standardized testing is, without a doubt, a useful and important tool. It provides,

“…. quantifiable information (scores, proficiency levels, and so forth), results can be used in screening programs (e.g., identifying those students in need of further assessment). Second, standardized test results provide information regarding an examinee’s areas of strength and weakness. Third, standardized test results allow a student to be compared to age- or grade-peers. Finally, standardized tests can be used to assess students’ progress over time.” (Flanagan, 2003)

These tests provide not only a quantified evaluation, but also a way to hold teachers accountable for what they teach. In theory, a teacher with widespread, consistent high scores prepares their class with the knowledge deemed important to learn at their academic level on a state or national scale. Certainly, this teacher could be considered a ‘good’ teacher; one that is considered to matter very much to education. However, that kind of ‘good teaching’ should not be the only one that matters. As Clair Berube states, “Although multiple choice standardized tests claim to measure every level of learning, they really only test knowledge recall…” (2004, p. 264). Simple knowledge for knowledge’s sake isn’t enough. The increasing pressure to exceed pass rates each year places many teachers in fear for continued employment. My current school must achieve a perfect pass rate by 2014 to continue in AYP. This goal, which of course we strive to meet, is changing the classroom. Therefore, it is important to remember that other kinds of ‘good teaching’ need to stay in our schools. Part of teaching, in my opinion, should be creating inquisitive, life-long learners. Simply ‘teaching to a test’, hitting the dates, places, grammatical rules, mathematical formulas, or science facts without encouraging critical thought, creative problem solving, or individual evaluation and opinion would fail students.
What then are the other qualities that need to matter in teaching? One my favorite summaries of what makes a good teacher cmes from Marie Hassett, Phd.,
“Good teachers:
• have a sense of purpose;
• have expectations of success for all students;
• tolerate ambiguity;
• demonstrate a willingness to adapt and change to meet student needs;
• are comfortable with not knowing;
• reflect on their work;
• learn from a variety of models;
• enjoy their work and their students.” (2000)
Many of the best teachers I’ve worked with excel because of their passion. Not only for their subject but also for whom they teach. They understand where their students are coming from and provide the support they need. Children come from a variety of homes, situations, and conditions that the teacher can only guess at until they take the time to ask. These conditions aren’t left at the door but affect attention, behavior, attitude, and work. A good teacher seeks the underlying causes and works to help.
A good teacher realizes they can’t judge their success on scores alone but also on the successes of their students and the connections they make with them. Many of our students in inclusion didn’t pass their SOLs last year but they increased their scores so much, we were as proud of them as if they had.
A good teacher knows that no matter how good a plan looks it may have to change. No two students learn exactly alike. Taking the time to evaluate strategies, explore creative options, and engage student input into their own education is the mark of an excellent teacher.
A good teacher also believes in their students. They listen to their concerns, provide a safe learning environment, give encouragement, and challenge their doubts in their own abilities.
All of these qualities; achieving high scores, supporting the personal and educational concerns of students, setting individualized measures of success, being flexible and dynamic in lessons, and continuing to push towards deeper knowledge themselves, are all qualities of a good teacher and they should all matter.

References

Berube, C.T. (2004). Are Good Standards Preventing Good Teaching? The Clearing House, Volume 77, 264.

Hassett, M. F. (2000). What Makes a Good Teacher? World Education, 12.

Flanagan, D., Mascolo, J., Hardy-Braz, S. (2003-2009) The Gale Group, Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/standardized-testing/#8


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