How to make a good teacher

If, according to Sir Francis Bacon “scientia potentia est” (knowledge is power), then what value those that impart knowledge? A recent study stated that investing and improving the top (most valuable) 10% of teachers, imparts up to 3 times the amount of successful learning to pupils, than advancing the bottom 10%. Easy then, just focus on the cream at the top of the profession and problem solved? It’s not that easy. A recent article* highlighted the many issues surrounding the current teaching profession, especially relating to the infrastructure available to advance teachers in the modern world.

Like many international professions, there is a vast difference between those operating in affluent countries which have resources than the have-nots. For example, the well funded and supported Teach For America is a shining example of how to invest in teaching talent and see the rewards, whereas in 31 ‘other’ countries a quarter of the teachers had not even attained the minimum national teaching standard. However, money is not power and there are challenges at every level, especially relating to the training and support offered to teachers.

Being a teacher in most countries is usually a fraught affair; lurching straight from being a pupil to teaching, completely unprepared for the realities of teaching children. Nearly half of teachers (even in affluent countries) have never once sat in on another tutors lessons, nor given the opportunity. And once in the classroom, the mission for most is to become a manager as quickly as possible in order to be paid a decent salary.

So how do you make a good teacher?

The process to make a good teacher is an overhaul from top-to-tail, starting from the top. National government should monitor teaching institutions and the teachers currently in place more rigorously in order to be prepared to improve or replace those teachers under-performing. The key is not to replace them with other teachers that then receive the same training and treatment!

In the middle of this process is providing the teachers currently in the profession with more windows of opportunity to learn from their peers. They should be given the correct infrastructure for appraisal and feedback exchange, including feedback from students. This will help each teacher learn and improve within their environment. Teachers themselves should consider themselves pupils and not want to be bottom of their particular ‘class’, even if that class is nationwide or in comparison with other teachers internationally.

At the tail we have money. By providing more incentive to get into the profession and greater flexibility on teacher salaries, more will be encouraged to join and continue the process of improvement before becoming managers, especially if salaries were linked to performance within a fair system. This would ensure those thriving within this process are likely to be great teachers that stay around long enough to help many pupils gain the knowledge they need. Those pupils may even go onto become teachers themselves, imparting their powerful wisdom. I’m sure Sir Francis would be pleased.

[*] The Economist, June 11th 2016, How to make a good teacher.

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