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What Makes a Great Teacher?

Original post made by Stacey on Jan 19, 2010

It is an important question to ask because teacher quality has a great influence on student achievement. An educational system designed to produce student achievement has to take this into account. So in designing such a system, one has to figure out this answer in order to create the right drivers (such as an effective compensation system) towards the governing goal. There's a non-profit called Teach for America that has been going about for the past 20 years to answer this very question.

Here's the article: Web Link
And here's the soon-to-be-released book: Web Link

Comments (24)

Posted by Karen, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

The great teachers my kids had:

-Were consistently well prepared every day
-Graded papers themselves - never had kids swap w/ seatmates
-Did not grade homework (it's really a grade on parent teaching at night)
-Were available every day before/after school (even if coaching at 3:30)
-Taught the material in the classroom for a full period before sending kids home with related homework
-In math, the teacher taught the concept for a full class period and answered questions - did not just intoduce a concept in the last 10 minutes of class and have kids try to slug it out at night teaching themselves from the book and then depending on the gifted/tutored kids the following day to demonstrate problems correctly on the board. (Kids do the teaching in that situation)
-Did not send home busy work for homework
- ******Taught the multiplication tables to 3rd graders in class so that kids with busy/uninvolved parents could learn their multiplication....without that rote knowledge, kids start flopping their way thru division and everything thereafter.
-Posed grades online in 3-4 days - really good teachers do this and, for some reason, some teachers don't realize that we parents can compare the teachers our kids have. Teachers do compete for a good reputation whether they realize it or not.

Thank you to all the great teachers my kids had! You know who you are and so does the community. We remember you and so do my kids. We still talk fondly at the dinner table about those of you who were such great people and teachers. My husband just flew 3000 miles for a tribute to one of his high school teachers who turned 80.

Thank you !!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by educate, a resident of Amador Estates
on Jan 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm


For the most part you make very valid points. I'm not sure why a teacher can't be great though that has family obligations after (or before school). The posting grades comment is also interesting. Why does a good teacher have to post grades online? I'm not against it (actually, I'm all for it), just curious as to why posting grades online would make one teacher better than another. If you mean getting grades/feedback to the students in a timely manner, that is extremely important, but the parents should be getting the grades from the students.

Posted by Karen, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Posting grades online is important because:

1. It gives parents timely feedback so that they can impose a consequence on their kids if they discover that an assignment has not been done. IE: you don't get to go to the sleepover on Friday night if you have a missing assignment. simple...immediate...effective.

2. Kids know right away if they bombed on a test and need to brush up on the concepts being tested. Theres' no "lag-time" for kids to talk themselves into thinking they are doing well with their work when they're not. *****They know where they stand ******* which is important for anyone who has a job, a class etc. It's immediate feedback.

3. Teachers are held accountable for getting their administrative work done on time. My daughter had one math teacher that constantly gave tests without the last test being graded. This was awful because the new material was based on the stuff on the old test and neither kids nor parents knew where things stood.

4. ***** It's TRANSPARENT! It's apparent that when grades are not being posted in a timely manner that the teacher is lagging because MOST teachers post their grades in a very timely manner - and when one or two don' a parent, I knew they were not keeping up with their peers. I've seen several teachers with 2-3 little kids of their own and a working spouse, who post grades consistently within one day. They prove it can be done. They are the teachers I mentally give an A+. There's a "curve" for teachers every semester too.... Parents usually have more than one teacher "enter" their household each year...they are not all the same...

Posted by Old Pleasanton Student, a resident of Birdland
on Jan 19, 2010 at 10:59 pm

This is silly. The result is student learning, not whether or not you personally "like" a teacher's style or habits. Are you going to sit on a board of trustees at your students place of employment when they get older to make sure that your best practices are followed? Silly. Teachers in a public school make up the fabric of your community and choose to educate students in a different and unique way for the benefit of students; Not quirky parents. A big part of a public education is how to adapt to ones environment and method of learning and too many parents are bailing their kids out and making excuses for them. Let them learn. I went through these great schools and I remember the good and bad and what I learned from each.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Jan 20, 2010 at 5:57 am

OPS, The question are: what makes a great teacher, how do you identify them, how do you use their skills to help other teachers excel, how do you remove those that aren't in the right profession, and how do we go about compensating the best of the best? All these are possible.

As a former student, you say you remember the good and bad and what you learned from each. The point is, you shouldn't have had any of the bad. No student should have to adapt at the loss of a solid education. There is work for the students and parents to do as well; it needn't start with trying to survive a year with a mediocre teacher. As the article points out, a year with an unmotivated teacher hurts the students and that loss can have a negative impact on the their abilities to learn in the future, particularly if that K-12 experience is peppered with multiple lax years.

Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of Danville
on Jan 20, 2010 at 8:11 am

OPS, that is the biggest load I've ever heard. Teachers don't make up the fabic of a kid and community, parents do. The worst act of the education system is their usurper claims of being more than they are, trying to take credit for good parental upbringing in nice areas.

What makes a great teacher? What's more important is what makes a great education system. The teachers are merely a cog in that machine. What makes for a good education system is a classroom of disciplined kids anxious to learn. 90% of this is created by the parents. However, the system can bring the best out of kids, both intellectually and emotionally by providing good nutrition and physical education. This puts kids in the proper mindset to learn. But no, instead these pushers want your kids on Ritalin because they're not paying attention in class. They're not paying attention because most of you are boring as sin and more than that their bodies are crying out to expend all their energy, and for good nutrition, so that they're minds aren't easily fatigued and overwhelmed. With such changes and others, kids could be learning in cramped shacks at 100 per teacher and get straight As.

The parents provide the will to learn. That's why good areas with good parents have good students, as opposed to ghetto areas with irresponsible parents and thus irresponsible students.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 8:20 am

Stacey is a registered user.

"What's more important is what makes a great education system. The teachers are merely a cog in that machine"

A great education system would not view teachers as merely a cog in a machine. A great education system is one that can capitalize on those qualities that make great teachers and find how to bring them to scale.

Posted by Retired Pleasanton Teacher, a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2010 at 8:38 am

A "great teacher" brings out the best in his/her students. This relates to both academics and character while in the classroom and hopefully, outside the classroom. Students need motivation to succeed. A "great teacher" can inspire this, but the real motivation must come from home.

Posted by Birdie, a resident of Bonde Ranch
on Jan 20, 2010 at 8:48 am

A great teacher looks very different to every child. What works for one will not always work for another. This is why the "system" is so important and the part that needs reform. Celebrate the differences in your kids and the teaching styles of the people who teach them. Whatever the outcome of all of this you must remember one thing, we all want what's best for the kids. We may have disagreements about what is best and how to get the kids to achieve to their maximum potential but we all want and are working toward that very same goal.

Posted by Aspiring Teacher, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2010 at 8:52 am

I agree with Retired Pleasanton Teacher and with Karen. However, in order to teach effectively, a teacher needs to have good classroom management. I have been a substitute teacher for the district for the past 10 years and have seen many classrooms and have had many different experiences in the classroom. Some have been great and some are like waiting to wake up from a nightmare. Some class make-up have a bunch of kids that are hyper, don't pay attention, or simply might have a learning issue (not just one or two but a whole group which requires extra time to explain something because you can't explain when they are yelling across a room or simply zoned out. I think the parents are partly to blame-these kids come to school stressed out about family issues, or not having proper nutrition and are starved-both physically and emotionally.

Posted by mooseturd, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jan 20, 2010 at 9:15 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

If you are a law abiding contributing member of our community, devote a minute today to making a list of the best three teachers you've ever had. Then tonight find how reach those who are still living. Write each a letter telling them how much positive influence they had on your life.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 9:38 am

Stacey is a registered user.

One of the points brought up in the article is that great teachers don't let a student's background affect their teaching. That isn't to diminish the fact that problems at home have an impact, only that really effective teachers are able to minimize that impact.

"For decades, education researchers blamed kids and their home life for their failure to learn. Now, given the data coming out of classrooms like Mr. Taylor's, those arguments are harder to take. Poverty matters enormously. But teachers all over the country are moving poor kids forward anyway, even as the class next door stagnates."

Posted by reasonable, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2010 at 10:27 am

I like Birdie's comments. My kids are very different and the "best" teacher for one would have been a disaster for another. That said, all these great teachers had some things in common.
- They presented material in an engaging way. They varied the assignments to make them interesting and to bring out different skills.
- They did most of the projects in class, not requiring kids to do them at home with parent help. That creates wide disparities based on parent ability and engagement, and then you end up with work done by the parent.
- They took the time to get to know the kids on a personal (not just academic)level. My son had a 2nd grade teacher who played football with the kids after school. My daughter had a kindergarten teacher who put on little plays for the parents once a month. Very different teaching styles but both really knew their kids.
- They were demanding and had high expectations. Even in the kids eyes an easy teacher is boring.
- They communicated with parents, whether by email, notes and newsletters, grades posted online, etc. Kids don't always fully communicate to their parents, and it keeps ALL parents (even those who work and don't volunteer in class) involved.

Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of Danville
on Jan 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

Says you Stacey. And if American teachers are doing so good how come the drop out rates and moron ghetto graduates who don't even know how to read increasing? Because you lower the standard to protect their "self-esteem." Our countryside school system is pathetic compared to disciplined nations like japan.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Not says me, says the researchers in the article. No one is saying that American teachers are doing good. If that were true, there would be no need for non-profits like Teach for America who spend 20 years distilling what makes a great teacher. You can't deny the effect of someone who can take 60% of their (poor) students who are scoring below grade level in math and producing 90% of their students scoring at or above grade level by the end of the year.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Or rather, it is difficult to deny that effect.

Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of Danville
on Jan 20, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I was saying "says you" in reference to your first comment. My other remarks still stand against your relentless obfuscation

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Obfuscation of what? Of your points about proper nutrition and physical education? I don't see where I've denied any of that. I even agreed with you that the *system* is what is important. The only disagreement I had was the idea that teachers are "merely a cog". Even a machine needs cogs that meet certain requirements and quality otherwise it doesn't run so well.

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Let's put it this way, I'm not disagreeing with your post, but you're ignoring the teacher factor in your idea of a system. That means you'll just end up with a system as broken as the current one. Actually, the current one also ignores it.

Posted by Bessie, a resident of Del Prado
on Jan 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm

OK, now two follow-up questions should be asked on this forum:
1) What makes a good school administrator?
2) When it comes to education, what makes a good parent?
Seriously, when it comes to reforming the education system, parental involvement and competent administrators are far more important. Fix those problems, and the teacher "problem" will take care of itself.

By the way, I am not a teacher. I've just been around long enough to remember when local districts (rather than state bureaucrats) ran the schools, parents were involved, socialism was a European thing, and loonism and political correctness were gnats on an elephant's behind.

Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of Danville
on Jan 21, 2010 at 6:51 am

Ooohhh Bessie! I like your style

Posted by Me, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

What makes a great teacher. Simple, they care.

Posted by Me, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm

What is interesting as a parent I have had teachers that challenged my children (we love that) only to hear others bad mouthing how terrible the teacher is. We have had great teachers that do not post thier grades onlines, and teachers who were local favorites that taught our kids nothing (but maybe brought someone elses' kid along).

Posted by dublinmike, a resident of Dublin
on Jan 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm

dublinmike is a registered user.

comes down to parents or guardians.

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