What qualities do you need to be a great teacher?
It's the teachers stupid! If there's one thing I've learnt from writing this blog over the last two years, it's that quality teaching is key. You probably knew that already from your own school days, or from experiences with your children, but it's completely and utterly backed up by research*.
Last week I attended an excellent education conference run by the thinktank Reform. It was a really stimulating, informative day, and there was much sharing of brilliant ideas. But one thing which came out again and again was that you can't do anything in schools without great teachers (and good leadership).
Yes there are lots of things that need to change in education, from exams to testing. But the people responsible for implementing these changes will be the teachers.
I was particularly interested in what Dylan Wiliam, professor of education, had to say about small class sizes. He was keen to point out that (surprise, surprise), "what matters is teacher quality, not class size." In fact, he said that when class sizes are cut, you often don't see improvements because it naturally means more teachers (who won't necessary be of the highest quality) are taken on.
I also met a fascinating headteacher at the conference. It's not fair to give her away, as we were chatting generally rather than doing an interview for the blog. However, she was (is) a remarkable woman who has turned a failing school around and when I asked her what she had needed to do, she mentioned three things. She said that she introduced a uniform, tightened up discipline and got rid of the bad teachers. It was the third of these which proved the most difficult.
This is why I'm not surprised by the latest reports suggesting that only handfuls of poor teachers get removed from the profession for incompetence. Every headteacher I've spoken to has said that the unions make sacking anyone very difficult and that bad teachers often get shuffled around different schools. One head told me that when he agrees to pen a reference for a (bad) teacher who is leaving, he always puts his phone number on the end, and hopes that he gets a call. That way he's able to give a more candid assessment.
But I don't want to be too negative about teachers today. Yes, poor teachers are a real problem, in primary as well as secondary schools (in fact, you could argue that they're more of a problem in primary schools as many children only get one teacher a year). And it is hard to remove them from their positions. However, there are also many brilliant teachers out there. I know, I've met some.
Two weeks ago I went to the London and South East final of the Teaching Awards. It was a fabulous occasion, and so inspiring. The only down-side was that it made me want all the winning teachers to be at my children's school!
What was particularly impressive was the fact that all the teachers thanked their colleagues and the children. None of them seemed driven by ego and all appeared to have boundless enthusiasm. This seemed particularly true of the winner of the teacher of the year in a primary school.
Michael Wade, a Year 6 teacher, was described as "one in a million". The parent who nominated him wrote: "his imagination knows no bounds. He has turned our school around and given it a new life."
Mr Wade was said to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of every child and what he needed to do to "reach" each one. He's involved in extra-curricular activities and can not only teach, but act, sing and dance. And he's self-deprecating too. When he won his award, he said:
‘I’ve taught 320 children in 11 years and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t have ability or who doesn’t want to be aspirational. Thank you to them - because they make me look a lot better than I actually am!’
So today I'd like to congratulate the great teachers - those nominated and not nominated for the teaching awards and ask, what makes a great teacher?
Here's my list. Please add your comments too.
1) Passion for your subject
2) The ability to communicate (with pupils, colleagues and parents)
3) Hard work
4) The ability to change, depending on the children or even the government (with its endless curriculum changes)
5) Liking children
6) Having high expectations of pupils
PS Many people found Robin Williams in Dead Poets Sociey (as seen above) to be truly inspiring. Others thought that this maverick* teacher was nothing of the sort. We may all have different opinions when it comes to what makes a great teacher, but surely some of them share common attributes.
Source: The TimesOnline, July 5 2010
* research - Forschung
* maverick - unkonventionell, eigenwillig
1. Do you agree with Dylan Wiliam, the professor of education, on what he says about class size and improving teaching?
2. Discuss the woman teacher's opinion who turned round a failing school.
3. According to what the texts says, why is it so hard to get rid of poor teachers?
4. What should a teacher look like according to the writer of the text?
5. Comment critically on the list which the author of the text draws up at the end. Would you add other points to the list?
6. What would you consider to be a good teacher?
What's your opinions on the article below?
We need bad teachers, says schools boss
Ofsted chairwoman courts controversy saying schools should 'reflect society' and not get rid of every inadequate teacher
The chairwoman of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), has recommended that “every school should have a useless teacher” so children learn how to deal with people in authority who are not up to the job.
Zenna Atkins said schools, particularly at the primary level, “need to reflect society” and should not be trying to get rid of every single inadequate teacher.
Young children were adept at exploiting incompetent teachers and this was a valuable skill for “playing authority” later in life.
Her comments are at odds with an attack last year by Christine Gilbert, Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, on a “stubborn core” of incompetent teachers giving dull lessons.
Rod MacKinnon, headmaster of the independent Bristol grammar school, who has also been head of a state school and is an Ofsted inspector, said Atkins’s views were “appalling”. He added: “I am amazed and horrified ... we should be seeking to give children the best education possible.”
The General Teaching Council said two years ago there could be as many as 17,000 “sub-standard” teachers. It emerged last week that it had struck off only 18 teachers for incompetence in 10 years.
Atkins, who also chairs a property company and is on the Royal Navy fleet executive board, said it would be misguided to try to sack all incompetent teachers, particularly in primary schools.
She emphasised that she was voicing her personal views, not those of Ofsted, adding: “It’s about learning how to identify good role models. One really good thing about primary school is that every kid learns how to deal with a really s*** teacher.
“In the private sector, as a rule, you need to performance-manage 10% of people out of the business. But I don’t think that should be the case in teaching — schools need to reflect society.
“I would not remove every single useless teacher because every grown-up in a workplace needs to learn to deal with the moron who sits four desks down without lamping them and to deal with authority that’s useless.
“I’d like to keep the number low, but if every primary school has one pretty naff teacher, this helps kids realise that even if you know the quality of authority is not good, you have to learn how to play it.”
Atkins leaves Ofsted at the end of next month to take over as chief executive of the UK arm of Gems, a private education company. There she intends to launch state-funded “free schools” under government reforms.
She said the credibility of the education system was “shot to shreds” because of a reluctance to use technology, the alienation of too many parents from the curriculum and a failure to produce enough candidates for skilled jobs such as nuclear engineering. “We are stuck in an era of chalk and talk, a Victorian education model,” said Atkins, who left school with one O-level.
She suggested schools should use computer games such as Call of Duty and Nintendogs because they had been shown to teach mathematical and other skills well by taking advantage of the “intuitive way many children learn”.
Source: The Sunday Times (Online), July 11, 2010