Today both Janet Lansbury and Teacher Tom have posted about how not to teach. Well, that's the message I took away from their posts, anyway! Have a look, and see if you agree with me.
Anyway, I thought perhaps I'd take the opposite tack and tell you about some things to look for in a good teacher. You should be able to use these guidelines whether you're looking for a coach or tutor, assessing whether your child needs to move to a different class, or choosing a preschool.
Be warned: at no point will I mention test scores. The reason for this? Test scores don't measure how far a child has come from their personal starting point. A good teacher value-adds to every child's original potential, and that can't be measured in a comparative-result test.
How I wish our governments would use this list, instead of the statistical claptrap they insist on relying on. Teacher Tom will tell you what's wrong with that approach.
So here we go:
1. A good teacher sees the child at once. Look for acknowledgement of and interaction with your child as soon as the teacher meets them for the first time.
This is really important, it's my number 1, because a good teacher always looks on children as worthy of respect and is genuinely interested in meeting your child.
A good teacher introduces him/herself to the child as well as to the parent, and includes the child in any conversation. The age of that child doesn't matter! Even a baby is not an inanimate object, and so a good carer will address the baby, with respect.
2. How does the teacher speak to your child? A good teacher uses adult language when addressing a child, with word choice appropriate to the child's age, and adjusts the level of language appropriately depending on the child's response.
A good teacher never patronises or talks down to a child, and realises quickly if the child's communication skills are not age-typical (in either direction)- then compensates. Your child will understand what a good teacher is saying to them, or if they don't, the teacher will get down on their level and keep trying until they succeed.
3. How does the teacher interact with your child? A good teacher asks open-ended questions, and listens to the responses with an open mind. A good teacher invites the child to initiate conversations with him, and really listens, and responds.
If you read the Janet Lansbury post, you'll see in my comment there that my blood pressure rose considerably when I read about the teacher who told a preschooler that a disc shape was called 'round', not 'circle'. That's dreadful teaching. It's not respectful, and it's not fair. That teacher had made up her mind what the answer was, and she wasn't listening to the children any more.
(That's the sort of teacher who, in high school, marks correct alternative answers wrong in the exam, because it wasn't what she had in her head when she set the question. Maddening. Unfair. Makes the child withdraw and stop trying. And I see red!!)
Teachers like that stifle creativity as well as skewing factual learning. Run a mile from teachers like that, as Janet did.
Speaking of fair,
4. A good teacher is fair.
Remember, my definition of 'fair' isn't 'giving everyone the same thing'. My definition of 'fair' is 'giving everyone what they need'. So if there's a dispute between two children, a good teacher will recognise that both children need her loving intervention, not just the perceived 'victim'. So she won't, for example, vilify anyone in her class. Not even the 'problem' children- or what you might see as the 'problem' children.
Listen to your child's feedback, because unfair behaviour is the first thing they'll complain about; you might need to speak to the teacher about your child's needs, or you might need to explain to your child that other children have different needs which the teacher is trying to meet. (Keep an open mind till you know the facts, and remember that teachers are bound to keep information about other students confidential.)
And by the way, speaking of confidentiality and professionalism- if you complain about another child's behaviour to the teacher and she vilifies that child in any way in response, you can bet your bottom dollar that your own child's private information isn't safe with her.
5. Does your child seem interested, or bored? A good teacher uses the children's interests to motivate them and keeps the learning relevant to the child's world as far as possible.
That means he finds out what the children are interested in, and teaches around that. (Yes, even a maths teacher can do that to some extent- or at the very least explain the relevance of the material.) I'm doing it myself at the moment with a reading student; amazing how much better he performs when I give him reading material he's interested in!
You see, good teachers know their students, and I don't just mean their name. Good teachers are holistic- they see the child as more than just a receptacle for their own certain type of knowledge.
A good teacher sees children as capable; a great teacher will set the bar slightly high, then adjust downwards only if necessary- because that ensures the interest of the children. Doing stuff they can already do over and over is boring. Children are surprising creatures sometimes. We could all learn something about children's capabilities from good teachers, because good teachers will provoke you to say "I never knew he could do that!"
And good teachers love red herrings thrown in by the kids, because it helps them to know their students- and it shows them what the children might be interested in learning about.
Control-freak authoritarians are rarely good teachers.
6. Good teachers set little or no homework.
(waits for the explosion from Tiger Mum Central!!)
Good teachers don't need to set homework, because they made the information stick by teaching it engagingly in the first place. They also don't set homework because they recognise that the children who really don't get it won't be motivated to do it because it'll be all wrong, and the children who already get it and don't need more practice will probably sit down and do the homework when they'd be better off playing outside, and half the homework that's set will be done by the parents anyway.
Then the teacher will have to sit down and mark work that didn't even need to be done by kids who've already mastered the skill, instead of spending that time working out a new and creative way to help those who don't understand.
Good teachers might set the odd assignment to see if a child can utilise their learning in a different context, but a great teacher will give the children lots of time to work on that project at school- because they recognise that free social play and outdoor play are both extremely important to children's development.
(NB: Music and sporting practice are the exceptions here. Something that demands increasing muscle memory and strength does need home practice nearly every day. But please don't let that be to the exclusion of free, social and outdoor play!)
7. For good teachers, teaching is a vocation, not a job- and so good teachers aren't defensive about their practice. Because they're professionals, they'll keep up to date with current thinking because they want to, and they'll be interested in new approaches. They'll welcome your input about your child (as long as you're respectful with their time). They'll sound enthusiastic about teaching when they talk to you. They'll be masters of critical reflection, and they'll listen respectfully if you feel a need to question something or complain.
They may not agree with you. But they'll speak to you respectfully, because they're professionals and they recognise that teaching and parenting have common goals- to help your child to blossom.
Now... how am I going to get this list out there to be used by the government? :D