What Make a Great Teacher: Part 2

Everyday nearly 50 million students head off to approximately 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools around the country and before the school year is out, an estimated $540 billion will be spent related to their education.

In part 2 of What Makes a Great a Teacher I asked a friend of mine who is in her 4th year of teaching what she thought was driving successful students in America’s schools? And how do you measure that success? We are, “starting to see a trend to standardized everything,” she says, but is this best approach to measuring education? There are some hints of incentive pay for teachers, or a merit pay structure as a new way to pay teachers.

It was very interesting to see the similarities between the 30 year teacher in Part 1 and teachers just beginning their careers. Both groups of teachers highlight the imporPhoto by Cayusatance of external factors influencing a students success: namely a student’s home life and the influence this has on achievement.

Here are the questions:

What is the single most important factor in determining a students success?

There are a lot of obvious factors that determine a students success including overall IQ, ability to learn/process/take in information, general liking of school etc, however in my opinion the most important factor would be the students home life and support system. A student can have an incredibly high IQ, however if there is no support at home asking the child how their day was, do you have homework, what did you learn, how can I help etc, then the motivation needed to succeed is lost. Education must be viewed as an important priority in their lives.

How can students do their best in school?

Students today need a lot of motivation, positive reinforcement and interactive learning.  They are so used to being constantly “tuned in” or “wired up” and also being stimulated (through tv, video games etc) they don’t know how to stay engaged unless it involves some sort of interactive learning. This puts a lot of pressure on the teachers to find new and exciting ways to teach all day long in such a way that will keep the students engaged.

Do schools today work well? Or are there changes needed?

Are all schools great? No. Are they all the same? No. Can a school in the inner city of New York or in the boonies of West Virginia give the same opportunities to their students as those in Fairfax County? No. But I do feel there are a lot of good systems in place. I think today kids have a lot on their plates but at the same time I also feel there is no accountability. This seems like it would cancel each other out, but somehow it happens. Kids have so much baggage they come to school with (parents fighting, sports, home life, peer bullying, things you wouldn’t even imagine —roaches in their toothpaste—true story). But at the same time, so much is in place so that they don’t fail. Things like online homework systems, after school make up help and“no fail” policies affect the student’s overall sense of accountability.

I also feel there is so much based on the test scores that there is less room for freedom for students AND teachers to be creative. So while yes, I do think there is A LOT of good in the school system (or I wouldn’t be doing this job), I do feel there are a lot of changes that could be made. And I don’t necessarily feel that the changes currently being made are the best direction to go.

How do you measure an effective teacher?

I think this is a tough situation. I do feel there needs to be some sort of an accountability towards teachers, but how can you hold someone accountable to teach at their highest standard when there is no incentive to do so? Right now, with no pay increases in 3 YEARs, and more work being put on the teachers as office jobs are being cut, why would you put more effort than you already are into your job knowing you wont get anything more out of it?

Also, a lot of teaching is sharing ideas, and thoughts and working together. You would go crazy if you had to do it all on your own. So how do you hold a teacher accountable without creating a competitive environment that breaks down the atmosphere of wanting to share ideas and strategies?

I feel a teacher is effective if they can reach the children.

How do you measure an effective student?

Recently there has been a REALLY big shift to test scores and standardizing everything. While I do see the plus side (it puts everyone on a even playing field, all students are taking the same tests as opposed to “Mrs. Smith’s easy tests”, it’s an easy way to see trends within and among schools etc.) Coming from the field of special education, I don’t always agree this is the best approach to measuring a student. Some students may be GREAT test takers, but throw them into the real world and they can’t put any of this knowledge to use. Or on the other end, some students needs multiple accommodations to complete a simple test, but are so creative and intelligent in other ways.

I think students need to be measured on a variety of skills and not just pencil, paper tasks. How would you go about doing this? I think students need to have the opportunity to express themselves in multiple ways. All these studies are done about the different learning styles (visual learners, auditory learners etc).

What makes a great teacher?

A teacher who sees the potential that the student has instead of giving up. He or she teaches the students the life lessons of humility, sense of humor, communication skills, confidence, social skills. A teacher who cares about the student and not about the scores! (unfortunately this is becoming harder and harder to do…)

Posts in this series:

American Education Week

What Makes a Great Teacher: Part 1


Mike Toner

Based in Alexandria, Virginia Michael is the Manager of Social Media at Navy Federal Credit Union. By evening, he's a husband, dog owner and runner. Toner writes about social media strategy, tools, training and best practices for social and digital marketing programs.


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What Makes a Great Teacher? Part 1

The 89th Annual American Education Week-Nov. 14-20, presents all Americans with an opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals...