Sunday, August 21, 2005

Observable Characteristics of Good Teachers

I asked, the other day, how you know whether a teacher is good or not, since everyone acknowledges that some teachers are better than others. I got a number of answers, all thoughtful. I was asking for observable characteristics of good teachers. If one were going to design a system of pay that would reward better teachers, one would need to operationalize (make measurable/observable) the qualities of good teaching. What are the signs that can be picked up on relatively quickly by another teacher, administrator, or parent (or child, for that matter)? I realize that I sound like a jerk when I ask, "How can you tell that a teacher is caring/passionate/reflective?" and that it's possible to come up with a scientific definition of these things and lose sight of the big picture... bear with me, it's an exercise, a way to think about how one can fairly evaluate good teaching. As Suspension of Ego asks, "how do you measure those things on a consistent scale for something like merit pay? "

N's comment is a good example:
I don't know what makes a good teacher but I can tell when a teacher is good by how the kids react to the teacher. There's always that one teacher who gets her kids to turn out fabulous work, whose kids like going to her class, who seek her out after school, and usually can find her then because she puts in a ton of time in the building.

I've listed other answers below. What else can we add? How can we operationalize or make observable some of these that are a little more abstract?

  • good knowledge of subject area - how is this demonstrated?
  • constantly learning - evidence is that curriculum changes year by year based on the students' needs & teacher's on-going development
  • energy - again, how is this demonstrated?
  • collaboration with other teachers & school mission
  • knowledge of child development - how is this shown?
  • respectful of children & parents while still authoritative
  • balance between direct teaching and "personal-global-creative" approach
  • humor
  • wants to teach; sees teaching as a lifestyle, not a job - how can you tell if a given teacher has this view?
  • caring - "if you don't care about what happens to those kids once they leave, its going to show" - how will it show? what do you actually see that tells you, this teacher cares?
  • passion - again, what are the visible signs of a passionate teacher?
  • effort to differentiate the curriculum to challenge every student
  • seeks outside resources & integrates them into the curriculum
  • high standards for self and students - "does not send home the 2nd grade spelling list with multiple misspelled words"
  • students are engaged
  • gets students excited about learning
  • eyes light up when teaching (and the teacher can kindle this passion even when tired/burned out)
  • voice is not shrill or mumbling
  • students name them as one of the best teachers


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