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Jewish World Review
Feb. 10, 2005
/ 1 Adar I, 5765
Assessing a quality teacher
Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg
Research shows that the effect of a poor teacher on a child's progress can lasts up to three years. Many parents judge and take issue with the quality of a teacher based on their child's happiness. A seasoned educator considers if this is a true or fair barometer. The answer is important, because parental action can potentially impact the learning process in its fundamental stages.
Two parents are discussing their sons' schooling. One uses words like "fabulous" and "thrilled" to describe his child's opinion of the teacher. The other father, in total surprise, responds that his boy is miserable. Two children, two responses but the same teacher. Possible? Certainly.
Research shows that the effect of a poor teacher on a child's progress can lasts up to three years. Many parents judge and take issue with the quality of a teacher based on their child's happiness. But is this a true or fair barometer? The answer is important, because parental action can potentially impact the learning process in its fundamental stages.
While qualities determined essential as a result of research will be explored, we shall see in the final analysis being an effective teacher boils down to one important quality.
Numerous studies have investigated the characteristics of the
worst and best teachers. I will now share several studies that
took a look at the question of quality teachers and will highlight
how the most critical factor is missing from all the studies
Before reading on, though, take a moment to reflect on your experiences
in your own education. Who were the best teachers you ever had? What were the characteristics that separated the mediocre or bad teachers from those that were outstanding?
In a recent study of adults, participants were asked to
describe the qualities of their favorite teacher. The overwhelming
results of this study revealed three common characteristics. These teachers were firm
(strict), they were fair (not necessarily equal) and they gave
their students self-confidence with the underlying message of
"you can succeed".
Writing in "Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching", author Charlotte Danielson outlined measures relating to quality teaching. They were organized into four domains, each with
several components. These measures are:
- Planning and Preparation (Knowledge of content and pedagogy, demonstrating knowledge of students)
- The Classroom Environment (Creating a classroom environment of respect and rapport in both
student-teacher and student-student interactions, setting expectations for learning and achievement, managing classroom procedures, managing student behavior)
- Instruction (Communicating clearly and accurately in oral and written directions and procedures, encouraging student participation, providing feedback to students in a timely fashion that is accurate, substantive, constructive, and specific)
- Professional Responsibilities (Communicating with families to provide information
and growing and developing professionally in terms of enhanced content knowledge and pedagogical skill and service to the profession)
In 2000, Stanford University professor Linda Darling-
Hammond conducted a 50-state survey and determined that the
following factors are related to teacher quality: Verbal ability,
content knowledge, enthusiasm for learning, flexibility, creativity,
But how can a parent evaluate these attributes and characteristics
to determine quality? You will probably not find all of
the following characteristics in every quality teacher, but most
of them will be evident. Quality teachers are:
- Caring and empathetic, respected by parents and students
- Hard workers who gear their teaching to getting their message
through to most of their students most of the time,
- Have a sense of humor and patience,
- Contact parents and return phone calls promptly,
- Are willing to try new ideas, no matter who suggests them
(including parents and students),
- Take the time to sit down with a frustrated student and
explain a difficult lesson and stay after school to allow students
to make up work,
- Love their subject and want their students to also love it,
- Are mentors who "stand on their heads" to discover ways to
get kids to feel good about themselves and about learning,
- Try many approaches to help weaker students gain self-esteem
and advanced students learn leadership skills and reinforce
- Are positive and flexible,
- Establish classroom rules and see that they are enforced all
the time with everyone,
- Never humiliate a child in front of his peers, but address his
problems privately with respect and dignity for the child,
- Are fair and objective and don't hold grudges,
- Never intimidate or control or make meaningless threats,
- Have a smile available for every student who really needs
nurturing because they value the individual more than they
value the subject matter.
These are the teachers that shine. There are many of them and as a society we are so much better because
However, the above list is only a list of building blocks of a
good teacher. No matter how they're stacked, they need
strongly cured mortar to create a solid structure that will
endure all the storms that blow during the average teacher's
career. Of all the criteria listed above, there is one critical
aspect that is missing. A teacher can have all the above and yet
be a poor teacher if they are missing this one quality. What is
the mortar that holds it all together?
The Talmudic sages provide some clear direction of what behaviors a
teacher should not demonstrate. Whether it comes to student
supervision or being attentive to the class, we have clear
instructions of what to do and what to avoid.
In helping us
define the "quality teacher" we may want to review a Talmud passage in tractate
Baba Basra (8:). The Talmud relates a discussion between
Rav and Rav Shmuel bar Shilas. When Rav met Rav Shmuel
in a garden, he asked him if he left his profession (as a teacher).
Rav Shmuel responded and said, "I left the students thirteen
years ago, but I still am always thinking about them" one
quality but one very crucial one: Keeping the child at the forefront
of our thoughts.
When you hear, for example, of a teacher that has a list of names of his
students pasted on a page in his siddur (prayerbook) so that he can include
them in his prayers, you know that he is a quality teacher. When
you care for the student you will do whatever is necessary to
create success. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe observes that the prime ingredient
for a successful teacher is for the him to love his students.
Love or "care" call it what you want but you will know and sense
when it is present.
The deciding factor for knowing if your child's teacher is of
quality is not dependent on whether or not the child likes the
the teacher. On the contrary, the student may like a teacher for the
wrong reasons and it may have nothing to do with his quality. The question is: Does the teacher like the child?
teacher who loves his students will surely be of quality and there
is a chance that the students may like him, even before they
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Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg is dean of Torah Academy in Minneapolis, MN. and a columnist for Yated Ne'eman. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
When 'gifted' children have problems
© 2005, Yated Ne'eman