May 14, 2008

What Makes a Great Teacher?

Tamara Fisher has an article in Teacher Magazine called "Unwrapping the Gifted" which answers the question she says she gets most often: What makes for a great teacher of gifted children? It's a good article and you should check it out (even if she does crazy stuff with typefaces). The thing is, she pretty much nails what makes a great teacher of anyone:

"...the factors that make for such a teacher begin with understanding and accommodations. This means that the teacher has developed (or is developing) an understanding of [their] learners, their academic needs, and their social and emotional needs. That understanding is then followed by appropriate accommodations. Once the teacher understands where the [...] child is coming from, the teacher then validates that by making targeted, appropriate curricular accommodations for that child. What these kids need most is for us to recognize and acknowledge their learning needs and then DO SOMETHING about it."

Yes! I edited out the two uses of "gifted" there because what she says applies to gifted, English Language Learners, low readers, all students.

She gives an example of the wrong way to handle a gifted student:

"A very ineffective teacher for a gifted child would be one who said, "You have already mastered this year's multiplication curriculum, but I still want you to do the same worksheets as everyone else because it wouldn't be fair to the other kids if I let you do something different."
It sounds absurd, I know, but sadly it happens in classrooms across our country every day. Who it's really not fair for is the gifted child whose learning is being *stunted* in that sort of situation!"

And ineffective teacher with an ELL or low student would say, "You couldn't possibly master this curriculum, but I still want you to do the same worksheets as everyone else because it wouldn't be fair..." yadda yadda yadda. What they are really saying is, "I don't want to take the time to think about giving you different work or simply grading the work you give me differently because it's easier for me to treat you all the same and just check to see who gets it (already knows it) and who doesn't.

Ms Fisher puts a more positive spin on it than I:

"A great teacher for a [...] child is one who is knowledgeable about [...] learners, is able to assess the child's zone of proximal development, and is prepared to take the steps necessary to move the child on from that point. As a nation, we need to make great improvements in preparing our teachers to do this."

Yes we do.
(image by vocalfuel)