Good teaching

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navigatr85
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Good teaching

Postby navigatr85 » Wed Feb 03, 2010 2:45 pm UTC

I've been wondering about what it really means to be a good teacher. I've been reading some discussions about merit-based pay for teachers, but it seems like none of those discussions contained a definition of "merit." I don't think anyone has ever set out a list of criteria that define what good teaching is. If anyone knows of such a list that's already been published somewhere, let me know; I'd like to read it. In this post, I'd like to propose some criteria for good teaching, and I'd like to know what the rest of you think of them. I don't have a degree in education or anything like that, but I teach and tutor at a community college. These criteria are just some ideas that I've thought up through experience on the job.

Before I get to the list, I'd like to point out one mistake that a lot of people seem to make. Being smart is not the same thing as being a good teacher. People applying to universities seem to make this error a lot. They might think, "Wow! That guy has two PhD's and a Nobel Prize in Chemistry! I want to take his class!" Knowing your subject well is certainly a part of being a good teacher, but it's not enough. Beyond the knowledge of the subject, you also need the ability to convey your subject to others. Many people have the knowledge without having a decent ability to convey it. The criteria I'm suggesting below mostly deal with other aspects, beyond just the knowledge.

So here are some of the qualities that I think a good teacher should have:
1. Re-explanation -- A lot of teachers seem to have the attitude that they only want to explain something once. They'll think, "I'm going to explain this concept to the student, in a way that makes sense to ME. If the student doesn't get it after I explain it once, then I'm not going to say it again. The students who don't get it are probably just dumb, or should go read the book more." That's a bad attitude. A good teacher, in my opinion, would consider the possibility that his first explanation wasn't clear enough. If a student was still confused, a good teacher would try to explain the same concept again, more clearly, or in a different way.

2. Individual attention -- If a teacher takes time to work with his/her students one-on-one, I think that's much better than a teacher who only lectures. This could involve helping them do some of their work during class time. Or it could involve being responsive to a student's question in the middle of a lecture. Or it could be advice given during office hours. I realize that this is only possible for a small class size. For example, if a professor is required to teach a class with 300 students, and he doesn't give them all individual attention, that's OK. I wouldn't automatically call him a bad teacher solely based on that.

3. Patience -- Students are always going to do things more slowly than teachers. A certain task in a class might be easy for a teacher, but that same task might be very difficult for a student. Many teachers seem to forget that. Because of this difference in speed, teachers should be patient with their students. For example, let's say a teacher is working one-on-one with a student, on a math problem. The teacher should guide the student through the problem, while still allowing the student to do most of the work. The teacher might be able to finish that problem in 30 seconds, but the student might take 2 minutes to do that same problem, even with the teacher's guidance. If that's the case, then the teacher should be willing to spend 2 minutes with the student on that one problem, patiently watching and allowing the student to do the work at their own pace.

So, I'd like to hear other people's opinions on this. I have some other criteria in mind, but I'll post them later, if people are interested.

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Ixtellor
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Re: Good teaching

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Feb 03, 2010 2:53 pm UTC

navigatr85 wrote:a definition of "merit."


What they really mean is using some metric to gauge your students learning. Generally in the form of a comprehensive test. High scores = you did a good job = you deserve merit.

Its a horrible flawed plan, for reasons of which I finally convinced my wife after her old school experimented with merit based pay -- with the result being infighting and merit having less to do with monetary gains as the easy or difficulty of the test.
(Example: Your pay is going to be determined by what % of students pass the state exam - Do you want to teach AP courses or regular course now? hint: AP students have a 100% pass rate)


navigatr85 wrote:So here are some of the qualities that I think a good teacher should have:


I have an old post on this, but will give my opinion later when I have more time. (I have problems with your reason number 2)
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rigwarl
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Re: Good teaching

Postby rigwarl » Wed Feb 03, 2010 3:33 pm UTC

Another problem with merit based teaching that was rampant in my high school (I don't even think we used the system, but teachers compared AP scores with eachother and competed) is they would teach solely so that students would ace the AP test; relevant questions were dismissed with "Don't worry about it, it probably won't be on the AP test".

In my opinion, a good teacher is simply one that makes his/her students really understand the material and remember it years later. For example, I remember all the capitals/countries in the world since I learned it from X teacher 6 years ago, but I don't remember ANYTHING about world war I (sad, I know- don't know who fought whom or for what reason) that I learned from Y teacher 5 years ago, despite getting a 5 on the AP test.

navigatr85
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Re: Good teaching

Postby navigatr85 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:36 am UTC

I think you guys might be misunderstanding me. I completely agree that paying the teachers based on the students' test scores is a bad idea. If I understand correctly, some merit pay systems are based on test scores, but not all of them. In some merit pay systems, the school administrators, who are usually also experienced teachers, observe the other teachers. Then, based on those observations, if the administrators feel that a particular teacher is teaching well, that teacher will get a pay raise or a bonus. If the administrators agree that a particular teacher isn't doing a good job, that teacher might get a pay cut, or might even get fired.

What I'm envisioning is something like this: a school could have an official list of criteria that determine good teaching. Maybe this list could even be written into the school's official policies. Then, the administrators would use that list as a guideline when observing the teachers and determining how well they're doing their job. If an administrator tells a teacher that he's getting a pay cut, and the teacher tries to argue against it, the administrator could point to the list and say, "you weren't doing this, this, and this."

rigwarl wrote:In my opinion, a good teacher is simply one that makes his/her students really understand the material and remember it years later.
I agree about making the students really understand the material. The three qualities I mentioned in the first post are, in my opinion, specific ways of helping students understand the material better. So I'd like to know what you think of those specifics. The idea of students remembering things years later is definitely a sign of a good teacher. But I don't think that idea is very useful. If a school wanted to use that to determine their teachers' skills, the school would have to contact their alumni who graduated five years ago, and ask them to recall things. That's probably not a productive use of time.

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mmmcannibalism
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Re: Good teaching

Postby mmmcannibalism » Fri Feb 05, 2010 4:18 am UTC

I think the best teachers are

a. People who care about teaching

b. want to see people learning

c. know what they are talking about
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Ventanator
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Re: Good teaching

Postby Ventanator » Fri Feb 05, 2010 12:55 pm UTC

What I'm envisioning is something like this: a school could have an official list of criteria that determine good teaching. Maybe this list could even be written into the school's official policies. Then, the administrators would use that list as a guideline when observing the teachers and determining how well they're doing their job. If an administrator tells a teacher that he's getting a pay cut, and the teacher tries to argue against it, the administrator could point to the list and say, "you weren't doing this, this, and this.


It sort of works this way at my school, and I'll say this: it doesn't work. Firstly, the administrators who do the grading of the teachers don't care in the first place. Secondly, the administrators don't grade solely on merit. It's all about favorites and who seems to do the best on that single day. For instance, a wonderful teacher might not do good under pressure, and mess up on the day when the administrator is there. Also, someone might not do crap during the rest of the year, but do an amazing job on that one single day. Letting the students do it wouldn't be any better. As a student, I know that if my peers and I decided the pay, the teachers wouldn't be paid right. The ones who didn't do anything are always favorites, and the ones who teach a lot are usually disliked.

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Re: Good teaching

Postby nazgjunk » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:18 pm UTC

navigatr85 wrote:2. Individual attention


I just started my internship at a high school, teaching physics. I won't be teaching for at least two more weeks, but I've spent enough time on my own courses and with teachers at this school to tell you that all teachers - every single one of them - I've spent time with would love to do this. The first thing you want to do when someone doesn't understand a subject is to figure out what they do know/understand and what their exact problem is. Ideally this is done one on one as everyone's got their own situation, but there simply isn't time for that. Due to various issues I won't bother to elaborate on right now teachers already struggle to fit the curriculum into the time they've got, and when you're lucky the schedule's got an hour per week to help the students that are having trouble.

Everything on your list is pretty basic stuff in a proper teaching course, I can assure you. Even people who've got the knack for teaching are aided greatly by the courses, and the mistake I saw in my two (miserably failing) years at university is that there's a number of people who assume it'll all come naturally or somesuch. It's easy (understandable, even) to underestimate the work that goes into an hour of class or a proper lecture when your knowledge is based on student experiences alone.
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Ixtellor
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Re: Good teaching

Postby Ixtellor » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:40 pm UTC

navigatr85 wrote:In some merit pay systems, the school administrators, who are usually also experienced teachers, observe the other teachers.


This could work, if it were random, but due to the MEGA strength of Teachers unions, and the fact schools themselves don't want to look bad, the observation days are known in advance. So a horrible teacher can put on a 'dog and pony show' for one day, and look like a good teacher.

Then as was mentioned, there is bias. Lots of administrators are friends with teachers.
I have a Marvel poster on my wall, and during one of my annual observations the administration saw it, and tried to talk with me the entire time about comic books. This was one of the mega rare days I don't lecture so it was basically students doing a group activity - and I received a steller score.

mmmcannibalism wrote: think the best teachers are

a. People who care about teaching

b. want to see people learning

c. know what they are talking about


Yep.
For you part A, I would add that I think you actually have to like kids. Some teachers really like teaching, but hate kids.
In addition, you have to constantly remind yourself that no matter how mature they look, they are all kids and will exhibit behaviors that will drive you insane -- but you have to maintain perspective.

Part C is mega Key. Its why one of my litmus tests for teachers is: Do they have a degree in what they are teaching, or are they an education major.

The sad part of teaching, is that if you only read the textbook one chapter ahead of the students, you would know more than 99.99% of them. So lots of teachers can fake it based on the fact they kids lack prior knowledge, and the vast bulk of them refuse to read.

Two other things I always add to my "good teacher criteria":
1) You can be honest with yourself and accept responsibility. Example if you give a test and the majority of the class fails it, is it them or you? Odds are you didn't teach the material, even if you think you did. Sometimes this won't be the case, but there is clearly a disconnect between with what you thought they learned and what they learned. So if something isn't working, change what your doing.

2) Do what you do best. If your great at lecture, do it - if your the master of group work, then do that.
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nazgjunk wrote:I won't be teaching for at least two more weeks, but I've spent enough time on my own courses and with teachers at this school to tell you that all teachers - every single one of them - I've spent time with would love to do this


What he said. Its a time issue.
I have X number of hours and y students.
I can't give them all indivdual attention. If I did slow way down and didn't move on to the next topic, until I had taken the time to 'educate' everyone individually it would result in faster learners getting bored, and falling way behind on the cirriculum. Due to NCLB - we have to cover a X(a lot) amount of material in Y (short) time so basically the class has to move on, even if ironically, some students are left behind.


Since the recession, it has gotten worse as all school districts have essentially had to make sacrifices and since labor is their highest input costs it generally translates into more students per teacher.
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Re: Good teaching

Postby dg61 » Sun Feb 07, 2010 12:59 am UTC

The sad part of teaching, is that if you only read the textbook one chapter ahead of the students, you would know more than 99.99% of them. So lots of teachers can fake it based on the fact they kids lack prior knowledge, and the vast bulk of them refuse to read.

Of course, then they are unable to do anything besides lecture on the texbook/make students lecture on the textbook, so they can't help the weak students and they frustrate the strong students. I'd honestly rather have a unpleasant person who knows the material than a pleasant person who does not. The latter's class might suck, but it'd still be less frustrating.

navigatr85
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Re: Good teaching

Postby navigatr85 » Sun Feb 07, 2010 9:02 am UTC

Ventanator wrote:Firstly, the administrators who do the grading of the teachers don't care in the first place.
That's interesting. Now that I think about it, I suppose the administrators don't benefit in any way from having better teachers. So they have no reason to care. That needs to change.

Ventanator wrote:Secondly, the administrators don't grade solely on merit. It's all about favorites and who seems to do the best on that single day. For instance, a wonderful teacher might not do good under pressure, and mess up on the day when the administrator is there.
This might sound harsh, but I think if a teacher is overly pressured just by the presence of an administrator in his classroom, then it's OK to penalize him for that. I say this because, in many other aspects of life, we penalize people for being unable to perform under pressure. For example, let's say an actor has severe stage fright. When he's alone with other actors, he can do some great acting. But when he's performing in front of an audience, he freezes up and his acting is horrible. That actor would probably have trouble finding any good-paying work. He's definitely not going to win an Oscar.

Also, I completely agree that it would be best for the observations dates to be random and unannounced. Ideally they should also be done more than once a year for each teacher.

nazgjunk wrote:Due to various issues I won't bother to elaborate on right now teachers already struggle to fit the curriculum into the time they've got, and when you're lucky the schedule's got an hour per week to help the students that are having trouble.
Actually, I would like you to elaborate on those issues. :) I'm not familiar with the details of how high schools work. I assume that the teachers don't create their own curriculum; it's handed down to them by someone higher up. If it's already difficult to fit the whole thing in, then doesn't that mean the higher-ups did a bad job of designing that curriculum?

nazgjunk wrote:Everything on your list is pretty basic stuff in a proper teaching course, I can assure you.
OK, that's good to know. Can you recommend a textbook that is commonly used in basic teaching courses, that contains information like this? I'd like to read it. At high schools, I guess every teacher has some kind of education certification and already does all the things in my list to an acceptable level. But at the community college where I work, some of the teachers don't have any of the qualities from my list.

nazgjunk wrote:It's easy (understandable, even) to underestimate the work that goes into an hour of class or a proper lecture when your knowledge is based on student experiences alone.
I think you missed the part in my first post where I said I'm a teacher. :) I completely agree about the workload, because I spend a LOT of time preparing for my lectures. But still, I do have time to work with my students individually, during the class sessions. Based on what you and Ixtellor said, I think my college might have given me less material to teach, and more time to teach it, than a typical high school teacher.

So, let me amend my statement from the first post. Individual attention is only possible for a small class size AND a curriculum that doesn't pack a huge number of topics into a small amount of time. If a teacher is forced to teach many topics in a short time, and doesn't give all his students individual attention, I won't call him a bad teacher solely based on that.

I wanted to respond to some other stuff, but this post is already getting too long, so I'll wait. :)

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Re: Good teaching

Postby tictactictac » Sun Mar 07, 2010 11:49 am UTC

authority. that's what it's all about.
when he doesn't need to punish the students because they behave well because they respect him for not being a douche or asshole.
things like patience or giving-the-best make the teacher look like an idiot.
individual attention is good, but until what grade depends on the personality of the teacher, not on the size of the class.

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Re: Good teaching

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Apr 12, 2010 8:24 pm UTC

Creating a metric to determine what teachers are good is exceedingly difficult.

Amount of students who pass the test is not good for many reasons - teachers teach to the test, smarter students will already be able to pass the test with no input from the teacher, students might even teach the class more than the teacher.

Student evaluation isn't any good - students like teachers who give them easy A's, evaluations often do not ask the right questions to truly get students' thoughts about the teacher (I swear it's a conspiracy), and different students' "fives" will be different, but I don't believe there's any 'weighting score' on most student evals that accounts for that.

Staff evaluation does not work either - administrators who don't know the material may not know it's being taught poorly, personal issues are brought into play, and one day a year is not representative.

The best I can see is to combine all three of these evaluations to determine how good a teacher is. That's still not all that great of a system.

One thing that might work is to have other teachers evaluations as well. For example, Mr. Jones would evaluate Mr. Smith by evaluating the knowledge base of the students who had Mr. Smith the year before. This is not perfect either, but I think it could be another factor in the bucket.

I also agree that the teacher's union in public schools is far too strong. There was a teacher who had somehow gotten tenure. The students knew she couldn't teach, other teachers knew she couldn't teach, and even some administrators knew she couldn't teach, but they couldn't get rid of her. Unfortunately, what they did was shove her to teach the remedial classes, which doesn't help them at all - but that's a discussion for a different thread.

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Re: Good teaching

Postby Dark567 » Sat May 01, 2010 3:02 am UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:
Student evaluation isn't any good - students like teachers who give them easy A's, evaluations often do not ask the right questions to truly get students' thoughts about the teacher (I swear it's a conspiracy), and different students' "fives" will be different, but I don't believe there's any 'weighting score' on most student evals that accounts for that.
...
I also agree that the teacher's union in public schools is far too strong. There was a teacher who had somehow gotten tenure. The students knew she couldn't teach, other teachers knew she couldn't teach, and even some administrators knew she couldn't teach, but they couldn't get rid of her. Unfortunately, what they did was shove her to teach the remedial classes, which doesn't help them at all - but that's a discussion for a different thread.


I saw first hand how student evaluation failed at my University. There was a particular professor who wasn't any particularly good at teaching, but getting an 'A' was a cake walk. Every year he would win the best teacher award given by students. The University probably would have fired due to giving to many 'A's except he had already made tenure, and once thats achieved something like 3/4's of the University's faculty senate has to vote to terminate a professors employment. Another tenured professor at my university lied to the NSF about his research and embezzled a about hundred thousand dollars. The feds convicted him and sent him to jail for about 6 months. The faculty senate barely fell short of the votes to terminate his position, so he is still teaching. I might be biased but I have a pretty big problem with both student evaluations and tenure.


nazgjunk wrote:Everything on your list is pretty basic stuff in a proper teaching course, I can assure you. Even people who've got the knack for teaching are aided greatly by the courses, and the mistake I saw in my two (miserably failing) years at university is that there's a number of people who assume it'll all come naturally or somesuch. It's easy (understandable, even) to underestimate the work that goes into an hour of class or a proper lecture when your knowledge is based on student experiences alone.


I'm not sure I completely agree with this. I had a couple college professors(college professors often don't take classes on teaching) who were great teachers without having any formal training in education. I guess that isn't to say they wouldn't be aided by courses, but they were pretty amazing without.
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Re: Good teaching

Postby achan1058 » Mon May 03, 2010 6:49 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:I saw first hand how student evaluation failed at my University. There was a particular professor who wasn't any particularly good at teaching, but getting an 'A' was a cake walk. Every year he would win the best teacher award given by students. The University probably would have fired due to giving to many 'A's except he had already made tenure, and once thats achieved something like 3/4's of the University's faculty senate has to vote to terminate a professors employment.
Can't the university reject his grades, or scale down the final grades? I know that in my old university, the admins complained about the final grade of our class being too high 1 time, and the lecturer had to scale everyone down by a few percent...... Naturally, none of us are too happy about the incident, but it probably can't be helped.

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Re: Good teaching

Postby modularblues » Thu May 06, 2010 8:10 am UTC

Good teachers are the ones that -- I can remember having very positive interactions with -- years and years afterward.

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Re: Good teaching

Postby Zcorp » Sun Sep 07, 2014 9:05 pm UTC

I think it is important to note how wrong the 'If you can't do, teach' idiom us.

Teaching isn't about being a Master of a subject, in fact often good teachers learn content with their students.

Teaching is entirely about getting your student to learn what they are trying to learn. This often means understanding aspects of your student that they don't understand about themselves. How they learn efficiently, how their thought process work, what they already know and how to build from that to reach what they are now trying to learn, how to trouble shoot their individual learning process and how to motivate them to care about the material.

An expert teacher is an expert in understanding how people learn effectively on an individual level. This is something mean people in teaching positions fail at as they teach in a way that they believe the student should learn or how they learn not how their student learns.

This is of course made much more complex when you have to teach many students at once, but is often still doable.

Edit:
oh...super necroed thread.

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Re: Good teaching

Postby stopmadnessnow » Fri Mar 18, 2016 7:40 pm UTC

Individual attention

It depends what the attention is. If it's to highlight your talents so much that you can't concentrate on the course, it's a bad idea. A good teacher doesn't need to encourage the people who will work anyway. Just notice the people who aren't getting it. They should open your mind, but just enough.
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Re: Good teaching

Postby Mckenny87sj » Fri Jul 08, 2016 2:04 am UTC

mmmcannibalism wrote:I think the best teachers are

a. People who care about teaching

b. want to see people learning

c. know what they are talking about


and D. they can hear people's voice even when people dont speak


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