What is a Great Teacher?

So this question has been plaguing me over the last few months. We all strive to be the best at what we do. But what I get stuck on is what is the best?  What makes a teacher successful/great/etc?

Are the most successful teachers ones who’s kids make A’s and B’s?  Grades suck.  I hate them. I wish I could just write a letter saying “Your kid did all that was asked, followed the criteria, and understood the material” or “You child never turned in any work or attempted to do anything other than argue in class. He seemed to understand the concepts but I have no way to prove it.” But like them or not I have to give them. So are those teachers whose majority of students make perfect grades better than those who have grades across the spectrum? Is a whole class of A’s good or too easy and not pushing the students?  We learn more through struggle, right?  So is this good? Or on the flip side, if kids have low grades because of lack effort, is that a reflection of the teacher?  What if the district has a grading scale that puts too much emphasis on assessments or benchmarks? I bet if I gave worksheets, had kids read from book and gave tests on it, my kids would make A’s. You wanted your kid in that class?

Are they the teachers who are nominated for awards? Or national board certified?  Do these things make you a better teacher. Maybe at some point. I just know people who I think “Why are you here? You hate kids.” but they have that certification. Does that teacher in your school who gets nominated every year as TOTY that much better than you?  And if so are they helping others to be as great as they seemed to be?

Are they the ones who are good at self promotion online? Those social media “stars” (insert sarcasm there) that tweet in every chat available. Those that tell everyone they are the best. Are they better?  Are they any different than teachers not online everyday who seem to rock?

How do we measure if we rock or suck?  By parent emails?  What those parents are saying about the teacher at the ballpark? By behavior of students that we have no control of 23 hours of the day?  By how much time they put into what they do?  Is it pedagogy?  Because if you are doing blooms correctly and hitting higher learning skills, kids aren’t going to always make A’s. Is it how much their students actually learn, not based on grades?  I read something the other day that when summed up said that as long as you care for the kids and loved them, it didn’t matter if they learned content. Does that really make you a better teacher? That’s kind of a scary thought. Is it the teacher always using technology with students VS the teacher who only turns on computer to check email and post grades? Is one better because preparing kids for their world or is one better because kids still learn the content?

I have no idea the answer to this. It is been driving me crazy. I just want to be the best at my job but I’m none of those. My kids don’t have all A’s. I just want them to finish something and turn it in so I can grade it some days. I just want them to learn, and OMG at what they have learned this year, but that isn’t good enough, to be great, is it? I don’t have any awards. I’m not a national board certified teacher. I tweet out my blog post but I get very embarrassed when I need to self promote, I have a panic attack writing bios and resumes because feel weird bragging. If parent emails suggest, I suck. Behavior has driven me nuts this year. Not usually an issue for me. Disrespect when you try to show respect us hard. Pedagogy is a strong point for me. But being PBL class this year has caused most of the hate mail and kids never experiencing it not to make A’s. So I know I am using really good pedagogy, but I’m so close to just giving them all A’s and letting them play games all class so I won’t be measured as a failure. I used tech, but who knows. And I really do care for my kids, even that 1% I smile when they aren’t there because I know no one will hijack my class.

So what makes a good teacher?  What makes a sucky teacher? I wish I knew. I’m kind of good at doing what I’m supposed to, but I don’t know what that is anymore. I just want my kids to learn. And learn stuff they can use for a life time. But that may not be successful. What do you think? How would you classify great teachers?

9 Comments Add yours

  1. LizA says:

    I think the fact that you know you have the easy option and you don’t take it, is what makes the difference (to paraphrase a poet about roads…).

    I think good teachers show up every lesson and I think a great teacher, well, I think that’s more an occasional guest star. I am hoping to guest star as great one day soon, until then, I’m aiming to show up as a regular good teacher, and avoid the easy option.

    Plus, grades suck. I like your plan better.

  2. @daddyaggie says:

    The fact that you can’t answer this question makes you a good teacher. The fact you know there is room for improvement makes you a good teacher. PBL is tough when the kids don’t have a background in it, but harder when the parents have none. One thought, not for this year by any means, invite parents to your classroom and give them a sort of condensed PBL lesson. Show them and stress to them that “you may understand the concept right away, but you may walk away with questions. Having questions is what learning is about. ”
    Parents are always going to make you fell like you suck because the 1% of those who voice their opinion are the ones who feel the world should bow to their demands. Kind of like their children.
    Keep bragging, keep improving, keep questioning, and keep being great!

  3. Lisa says:

    I find this post so interesting.

    As a parent, it wouldn’t occur to me to rate a teacher by the grades he/she gives. I also wouldn’t know where to look up accolades like awards.

    The kind of teacher I want for my children is one who inspires my kids to not only learn the material, but want more. I want a teacher who engages my children, turns the light on in relation to their subject area.

    I guess there are different lenses to consider when someone is expressing what makes a great teacher. At the end of the day, I think it’s the students’ voice that matters the most. They are the ones you are there to reach.

  4. @8amber8 says:

    Amanda, I think a GREAT teacher has heart. Has passion. Has grit. Has perseverance. Is willing to do something different, even when its the unknown.

    You are a great teacher, my friend.

  5. Joan Young says:

    The questions you ask are ones I have asked myself so so many times. We have a damned hard profession where nothing is clear cut and just when you think you have the answers, voila, someone asks a new question or you discover your own new question.
    The fact that you question, you work hard, you want your students to be challenged and reach new heights: all of these make you a great teacher.
    It’s that time of year when it all feels like it’s just too much. Hang in there. You’re making a much bigger impression on those kids than you know.

  6. Terrific inquiry Amanda. The very fact that you, and other teachers, are willing to ask these questions puts you above the apathetic souls that just don’t care. Unfortunately, they plague every profession. What’s important is good, or great, teachers know this in their hearts because they take time to reflect upon their craft. A growth mindset and a learner’s mentality means steady improvement representative of a life-long learner. Great teachers understand these traits implicitly and model them for their students. If a teacher can instill a love of learning in their students, and the students are inspired to share their learning with others, then this is greatness that grows and lives on. Thank you for these interesting questions, and for this forum for conversation. I hope that others will join in. Bob

  7. Andrew Pass says:

    I wonder if it’s possible that there is no such thing as one great teacher for every student. Instead different students need different kinds of teachers. It would be very hard for a single teacher to be special for all students.

    I often think about a high school social studies teacher that I had. I loved being in Mrs. Litt’s classes but interestingly enough she would not have been considered a great teacher on any metrics that I know of. Rather than involving us in projects or challenging us to think critically she made history come alive by telling great stories.

    Thanks for writing a thought provoking post.

    @apasseducation

  8. KMS says:

    Wow, you captured the same exact emotions I have. We were just discussing the self-promotion -a la social media, TPT at our lunch table and how we struggle because teaching is innately a servant profession. It’s hard to know where the line is. It is also so hard to read what other people do and not fall into a “fixed” mindset of never feeling that you can be good enough. I am struggling with so many of your same emotions, compounded by the media barrage and negative comments in the politics. here in our state that teachers are “evil” and “worthless”.
    Your BLOG helped me tremendously. And that is what we can say is great teaching. When your actions can help, inspire, support, and care for another.

    Thank you!

  9. Carrie Silverberg says:

    You ask a very interesting and important question…. One that many people would answer differently depending upon their values. BUT….as you know…. Every student is an individual with individual needs. I would say any teacher who both understands and applies this principle to each and every student, each and every day is a great teacher! More important than the grades a student achieves is their core beliefs about themselves. If a student believes they are not capable or are dumb, it doesn’t matter what you teach them, they are lost. Parents and teachers must share the responsibility of helping all kids learn that they are valued as people.
    As an ADHD Consultant and Coach I have seen far too many individuals with ADHD believe that they are dumb when in fact they are extremely intelligent, they simply learn in a way that is different from many of their peers. So many parents of children with ADHD tell me that they know their kid is capable of so much more but their teacher just doesn’t understand how to teach them and focuses only on their weaknesses while ignoring their many strengths.
    So what makes a great teacher? I would say, a desire and willingness to see each student as an individual and help them meet their potential. While a student who has needs that are different may create more work for the teacher as they differentiate their lesson, a great teacher sees the value in spending the time and ensuring that each and every student knows that they are valued for what they CAN do.
    Carrie Silverberg BA(Psyc), RECE
    ADHD Consultant and Coach
    http://www.adhd-strategies.com

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