Like any teacher who cares about their classroom craft, you would have asked yourself this question at some point. I’d even go as far as to say that most teachers ask this of themselves quite often, irrespective of the number of years in service to the profession. It’s a fundamental one which, at its core, reveals a deep seated desire to get better. To want to be more than what one is currently. After all, why pose a question one is not even willing to wrestle with? Because if we can know the answer, we can be it, right? If not, at least aim for it and perhaps land somewhere close to the mark.
A good teacher or good teaching?
A friend of mine recently recommend a video on YouTube of an interview with Thomas Moore, Professor of Education at UCL. Moore was asked the question ‘what makes a good teacher?’ His response was brilliant and demonstrated insight. He essentially explained that this is a static question for an ever evolving and developing set of traits and behaviours, consequently rendering the question somewhat inadequate. Instead, he suggested, we could better answer the question, ‘what makes good teaching?’ I’m sure your own responses to that question would include the typical things such as: good planning, effective behaviour management, strong questioning etc. However, the answer to the question of what makes a good teacher is more complex. He explained that the traits aren’t about being, as if one magically arrives at a particular destination after setting out on a particular course. It’s more of a question of becoming. What I find apt about this description is that the path is almost never ending. It’s a journey. And the most exciting thing is that we all get to tread the perpetual path to mastery over a lifetime.
This path towards master craftsmanship involves continuous self-reflection and disciplined self-observation, something I’ve written about here. There is something quite meta about this process, which should culminate in a course of action. After all, it’s no good reflecting and then staying the same. We have to set a goal in order to get better. But this process doesn’t take a rocket scientist to acheive. Just a genuine commitment. But perhaps the commitment part is hard because it involves some ardour and a willingness to look inward.
As I reflect on how one becomes a good teacher I’d like to share some practical tools and ways of thinking (dispositions) to assist with this. First the tools:
- Iris Connect, a video recording tool where you can see yourself teaching and conduct self-critique. If you’re bold enough, you can invite other colleagues to watch you and get their feedback. This is an incredibly humbling experience as you soon realise you are not as good as you think you are. So, well done if you manage to do this!
- Peer observation by inviting a trusted colleague to watch you. This is similar to the first option, just without the technology. Choose someone credible and whom you can trust to be honest with you. The last thing you want from this exercise is your ego stroked. I’d advise on setting an agenda before the observation. (I have a checklist if you would like me to send one).
- Post lesson written reflections done by yourself. A very powerful, introspective method for self-examination. Just grab a journal or exercise book to write your thoughts down.
- Student surveys. Err on the side of caution in terms of the types of questions you ask students. You don’t want to come across as pandering, or risk gathering data which isn’t useful to your purpose.
Secondly, I think there are a number of traits, or dispositions, say, which are conducive to becoming a good teacher. Here are my thoughts:
- Conscientiousness- a desire to do a good job with due care and attention.
- Humility- knowing that there’s far more you can learn.
- Resilience- an ability to carry on after failure, or in spite of any hardship.
- A good work ethic.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject of good teaching and becoming a good teacher. Feel free to email me or comment on this blog. You can also find me on LinkedIn where I make an effort to respond to most comments.
Here’s a link to the interview with Professor. Thomas Moore.