What Makes A Good Teacher?
I was just reading the Winter edition of the Teacher Learning Network journal, an initiative of the Australian Education Union (Victorian Branch) and the Victorian Independent Education Union that focuses on professional, curriculum and classroom issue for teachers.
Well, there’s some really worthwhile articles in this journal about teaching practice. This edition focuses on what it means to be a good teacher? Is it a high teacher salary? A tricky question. Let me quote some snippets out of various articles within:
A good teacher has a commitment to building the profession, supporting new teachers, reflecting on and improving their own practice and providing direction for the learning community (p.3)
It is generally agreed that the most effective teachers are those who are continuously learning and improving their own practice; and the best schools are those that support their teachers in doing so (p.7)
People are attracted to teaching as a career because they want to make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people. However, over the years the complexity of the teaching task has contributed to this profession being one of the most demanding there is (p.10)
Robert Garmston (1998) refers to four stages in a teachers career: novice, competent, proficient and expert. Garmston argues that attaining the expert stage is not achieved so much as a result of experience, but rather through reflection on experience (p.11)
Well, a good teacher must surely enjoy working with children and let’s face it, working with children is not for everyone! I’ve often wondered while teaching in various schools over the years myself, why teachers who appear to dislike children, are teaching! (There must be a research essay in there somewhere). Maybe it is just that some teachers occasionally ‘appear’ not to like children that much, but deep down, really do? Maybe I’m just naive, but when I first started teaching as a 22 year-old, I just assumed every teacher automatically enjoyed the company of children or they’d be wasting their time.
In terms of professional development, one of the articles in this edition of Teacher Learning Network mentions, as teachers, we must be careful not to use professional development as an ‘add on’ to what we are already doing. It is true, professional development, or professional learning, wherever possible should be integrated into our current teaching practice. It then becomes a valuable part of the whole, not just an ‘extra’ activity with little importance.
I am fortunate to be teaching at a school that highly encourages professional learning among its staff as an essential and vital component of our everyday practice. I would probably have up to 10 professional learning days every year, built into our school timetable for all staff. While some parts of these days are in fact non-teaching for the purposes of planning curriculum on campus, others involve guest speakers and off-campus activities. At the beginning of the year, I would normally have three to four professional learning days, another at the start of Term 2, another in the middle of Term 2, another at the start of Term 3, another at the start of Term 4 and I finish off the school year in December with a further three non-teaching days. Whether it be departmental meetings, curriculum discussions, taking notes listening to speakers, going to lectures or something similar, they are all professional learning in some form.
As I reflect on this very blog post, I have just left the computer for ten minutes to grab a coffee. I got five steps from the computer before a fellow teacher wanted to discuss with me how do we ‘teach’ our chosen ‘Habit Of Mind’ in our various courses? This issue was raised in one of his departmental meetings the night before. In Year 7 ICT, I choose to teach ‘striving for accuracy’, in my colleague’s Geography class he is teaching his students to be ‘thinking interdependently’ and in my Drama classes I am teaching students to be constantly ‘creating, imagining and innovating’. Professional learning doesn’t have to be formal. If my brief chat with my colleague counts as legitimate ‘professional learning’ (and I believe it does), then we all must have little spurts of informal professional learning discussions and debates 10 or 20 times every day at our workplaces.
Back to the chat with my colleague …. it ended in a healthy debate over what it means to be ‘creative’ and ‘what is creativity?’. Try and tell me that little chat wasn’t valuable! It was akin to the many times in my career I’ve had the debate with an art teacher on ‘what is art?!
Back to the professional learning opportunities offered by my employer …. add to those ten days a year a week of fully paid professional learning off campus every three years for each staff member. To put things in perspective, my school is a low fee-paying Catholic secondary girls school. The parents pay for a whole year’s tuition here with the same amount of money that would only cover 10 weeks schooling elsewhere. My employer has simply made it a top priority to channel a healthy percentage of available funds into continual professional learning for the teachers. Two of the biggest stakeholders are the winners – the parents and the students, themselves. Of course, the teachers and the government also win on this one. The last two times I used up my major professional learning activity, I went to IDEA Drama conferences in Norway (2001) and Canada (2004). My colleague in the Drama department (a 4th year teacher) just went to the Victorian College of the Arts to undertake a week-long intensive training course in acting for the camera. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so excited. She instantly found ways of integrating some of what she learned into her Year 10 Drama class. She has a renewed energy since her professional learning experience that is truly wonderful to witness.
In the old days (the 90s), I actually undertook very little professional learning with other people. As a graduate, I began as the only Drama teacher in a school, teaching from Year 7 to 12. I learned through books. Not really being much of a reader, I sunk my teeth into as many drama/theatre books as I could find in my first five years of teaching and learned a lot. I was obsessed. It is only really in the past seven or eight years that I have fully understood the value of professional learning the traditional way, at sessions, forums and conferences with other Drama teachers. It couldn’t get more social than a bunch of Drama teachers at a professional learning session, could it? So many teachers find one of the most valuable conference experiences is the actual networking. The informal chats, the coffees with colleagues from other schools, the discovery of how other teachers do similar tasks – differently, the questions and answers, the debates etc. You can always undertake professional learning in a vacuum like I did for my first five years of teaching, but is it as enriching?
So … back to the point of this post … what makes a good teacher? I’d be interested to read your comments. Throw up your response by clicking the comment button below.