Recently in the Atlantic magazine, the question was asked, what makes a great teacher? In answering this question, the magazine turned to Teach for America, an organization near and dear to my heart, and asked what they found makes a great teacher. Teach for America is an organization that recruits top college graduates and places them in urban and rural schools in some of the most struggling districts. I joined Teach for America in 2006 and found myself teaching in Memphis, Tennessee. As a “seasoned’ teacher of 4 years, I can say that TFA’s framework for training teachers and supporting teachers is a recipe for incredible teaching. It’s a model that public districts, as well as private schools, would benefit by implementing.
Steven Farr of Teach for America identified several factors that makes a teacher great, the most successful of the TFA teachers have most or all of these qualities. As a teacher, I find embodying all the qualities to be a goal for myself, and other teachers working to be better for their students should do the same.
1.Setting big goals-
The best TFA teachers set goals for themselves and their students. Goals help to keep students (and teachers) inspired and focused. In addition, it begins your school year with the end of year in mind– effective for goal setting, planning, and teaching.
2. Constantly searching for ways to improve effectiveness
Once you’ve taught for a year, planned for a year, and learned for a year, it does not mean that you (as a teacher) are done with the planning part of teaching. We have to constantly teach, evaluate, and alter in order ensure that we are being the best teacher we can be. Daily assessments test how well a lesson went. Student feedback lets us know how enjoyable a lesson or unit was.
3. Involving students (and family) in the learning process
Student investment is the key to learning. And it makes teaching easier! Encourage students to participate in the classroom, allow them to help create classroom rules, give them the opportunity to take ownership of the classroom. The magic of teaching happens when students are invested.
4. Maintain focus
Staying focused is hard for students and it’s hard for teachers. Setting goals, as mentioned above, is imperative to be an effective teacher in the classroom. These goals help a teacher to maintain focus in the classroom. Planning, which will be discussed below, helps a teacher to maintain focus. We have to remained focused on the students. Forget school politics, forget about your personal life (for at least the 7 hours you are in school), and forget anything that’s not related to student achievement. Having a solid plan makes maintaining focus much easier.
5. Ensure everything done contributes to student learning
Students need to be at the forefront of what we are doing as teachers. We need to ask ourselves–How will this help the students? Teaching can be very easy– hand out a textbook, assign a page number, and kick back and relax. However, this type of “teaching” does not benefit the students. All we do in the classroom needs to be for the students. It’s our job.
6. Purposeful and complete planning
The best teachers are those who plan every minute in the classroom, even if they’ve been teaching for 10, 20, or 30 years. Planning isn’t just daily planning–mapping out the year, breaking it down into units, and planning for the day-by-day is vital to be as effective as a teacher can possibly be. Great teachers start with the end in mind. I can attest to the fact that I am at my best in the classroom only when I have wholly planned my lessons.