Wednesday, September 1, 2010
A Note from Barbara St. Clair, Science Consultant
Barbara's Thoughts ...
I really didn’t expect to find the answers to life’s greatest questions while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my spouse, but there it was: the Atlantic magazine from January/February 2010, with an article titled “What Makes a Great Teacher?” I grabbed it!
The article is not a huge surprise, but the main message was encouraging: great teachers are not born and are not necessarily the unique heroes of stirring movies; they are instead hard-working, dedicated professionals who strive relentlessly to make a difference to their students.
Great teachers, then, can be models for our own behavior, because what makes them great is not who they are, but what they do. Determining exactly what they do has been the focus of study for the nonprofit organization, Teach for America, for many years. Recently the data from almost twenty years of observation has been compiled and interpreted, and the Atlantic magazine article presents an overview of this study.
The program Teach for America places college graduates in low-income, struggling schools, usually working with students who have fallen below grade level and whose demographics would seem to predict continued failure. What often happens, however, is that individual teachers take a classroom of these struggling students and move them not only through the grade level but ahead—defying the odds. Teach for America interviewed these teachers several times a year, observed their classrooms and visited with their administrators, students and parents. Based on the study, the organization identified several specific actions that promoted student success and significant gains in achievement:
#1 Great teachers tend to set big goals for their students [and they share those goals with their students].
#2 They constantly re-evaluate what they are doing and adjust their instruction accordingly.
#3 They “avidly recruit students and their families into the process.”
#4 They maintain focus, ensuring that everything they do contributes to student learning.
#5 They plan exhaustively and purposefully, for the next day or the year ahead, “by working backward from the desired outcome.”
#6 They check frequently for student understanding [and not simply by asking, “Are there any questions?”]
The author notes that “we tend to ascribe the gifts of excellent teachers to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere---but not replicate.” The data shows, however, that new teachers and veteran teachers alike can copy the behaviors of great teachers and have similar success---with dedication and perseverance. Greatness, in other words, is possible. That’s a great message for the beginning of the year!
What Makes a Great Teacher? By Amanda Ripley, the Atlantic magazine, January/February 2010
Thanks for sharing this, Barbara! You are an inspiration to me. :) For those of you that know me --- yes, JT is in the photo above (beard and all!). That photo was taken at Camp Barnabas this summer. JT is currently pursuing a major in special education. :)
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