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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is asking "What makes a good teacher" the right question?

Today's post was inspired by Mailbag: Readers define what's a good teacher.

Here are a few responses that came from this post:
A good teacher gives students the skills to think, create, explore, question and practice so that they can become productive members of society.
Probably the most important traits are compassion and patience.
A good teacher is one that enlightens a student to new areas of knowledge of which the student had no, or little, prior learning experience. 
The public schoolteachers’ role is to help all students achieve their potential.
...a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom can be directly related to a parent’s effectiveness in the home; a partnership between parent and teacher for the benefit of the student. 
 ...I can sum up what makes a good teacher in one word: support. 
 A good teacher knows when to put aside teaching the curriculum and teaches students how to relate to one another.
After reading this article, I felt compelled to interpret these definitions and explanations in terms of comparing US teachers with teachers working in Finland, albeit a debatable comparison by some. But Darling-Hammond (2010) argues that although no system from afar can be transported wholesale into another context, there is much to learn from the experiences of those who have addressed problems we also encounter.  The author points out two key points that I feel lead to greater, more specific differences between the two countries' educational systems:

Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards.
In Finland each teacher receives three years of high-quality graduate level preparation completely at state expense - plus a major overhaul of the curriculum and assessment system designed to ensure access to a "thinking curriculum" for all students. 
This is big: Finland teachers have the flexibility in deciding how national standards are met by being able to decide at the local level how the written, taught, and tested curriculum is to be implemented.  And they are prepared to do so because each teacher receives training (i.e., Master's degree plus ongoing professional development) that ultimately creates a greater demand for professionals that exceed those in other well-respected fields such as medicine and law.

So what questions should we be asking?  I would argue that instead of asking What makes a good teacher?, we might ask,


What responsibility does each educational stakeholder have when cooperating towards higher student achievement?

A more complex question leads to a more networked solution to higher student achievement.  Defining a "good" or "bad" teacher is simply articulating the direct result of prior socio-technical relationships; let's ask questions that relate to contextual, holistic, learning trajectories that enable educators to become better over time.

What's your question?

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