Sunday, September 16, 2012

"GREAT TEACHER!" Judgment Call or Objective Evaluation?

"When a high value added teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade/subject taught...and falls if/when that teacher leaves...All else equal, a student with one excellent teacher for one year between fourth and eighth grade would gain $4,600 in lifetime income, compared to a student of similar demographics who has an average teacher." -economists Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia as reported in  The New York Times (1/6/12) article, "Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain"
"Those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach, teach gym." --Woody Allen
Comedy aside, it isn't WHO makes a great teacher, but WHAT makes a great teacher and HOW do we determine "GREAT TEACHER?" Are there objective criteria or is it a JUDGMENT CALL? And what are the ramifications if it is a judgment call - especially now with the Chicago teachers' strike and teacher evaluations as a pivotal national domestic issue? 

In attempting to answer this question, let's first distinguish between "objective" evaluations and "judgment" calls:

    •  not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based of facts; unbiased.
    • intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings
    • of or relating to actual and external phenomena as opposed to thoughts, feelings, etc....existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality
According to many, using this last definition may make it promising for us to evaluate teacher effectiveness by measuring external criteria relating what students have LEARNED.  Granted this is easier said than done, but many believe that if you measure students facility with a subject matter at the onset of the year, one can assess 'growth of knowledge' by measuring their (increased) facility with those same skills at the end of the school year (as long as we don't go overboard with continuous testing and overly consuming overblown test-taking preparations).

BUT does teaching material make someone a GREAT teacher or just a GOOD/ EFFECTIVE teacher?

Furthermore, IF one looks at the first two definitions of "objective" I wonder and am somewhat doubtful if one can objectively determine what makes a great teacher. 

So what might a judgment call look like?

judgment calls ( judgment calls plural  (also use judgement call)    )
If you refer to a decision as a judgment call, you mean that there are no firm rules or principles that can help you make it, so you simply have to rely on your own judgement and instinct.   
According to
A value judgment is...based on a comparison or other relativity. As a generalization, a value judgment can refer to a judgment based upon a particular set of values or on a particular value system. A related an expedient evaluation based upon limited information at hand, an evaluation undertaken because a decision must be made on short notice.
Incorporating these definitions brings us awfully close to the current debate on teacher evaluations and merit and whether these can be measured at all.  While we need to hold both educators AND their students accountable for learning, are we ready to objectively define and evaluate "GOOD TEACHER?"  

Looking back at my experiences as student, as an educator, and as parent, I think there IS A PERSONAL COMPONENT to what makes a GREAT TEACHER - there has to be.  A great teacher must relate to his or her students, make learning come alive. bring out emotions and feelings in their students while addressing student fears and passions associated with learning.

Maybe we can objectively quantify an effective teacher but must make judgement calls on "GREAT" teachers... 

Whether 'Great Teacher' is a judgment call or objective reality (I leave the continuing debate to you in the comments) I want to focus on...the making of a GREAT teacher.
 Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson found in    
I have been an educator for over 25 years.  I have worked as a school psychologist, as a language arts/reading teacher (grades 1,3,4,5,6,7 and 8), as a teacher-mentor, and as an educational consultant, and was actively involved as a parent in my kids' education.  I have met, observed, and taught with many, many teachers - some who were outstanding, some who were mortifying, and most who were 'good'.  Here are the TOP TEN components I have found (based on literature searches and my own experiences) that make a teacher GREAT :
  • Great teachers exude INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY  and they push their students to follow and feed the curiosity they model as they constantly question the world around them. When teachers can channel and push a 'need to know' attitude, learning and remembering are much more effective.
  • Great teachers exude PASSION - for their students and for learning.  Passion is motivating. It is exciting, it is engaging and it is catchy.  This passion motivates and pushes students to want more, to embrace more, and to contribute more.
  • Great teachers RESPECT their students' needs and perspectives.
  • Great teachers have KNOWLEDGE and expertise in the content they teach while- 
    • Knowing what they know
    • Knowing when they don't know 
    • Knowing how to acknowledge that they don't know (this is so important for modeling intellectual curiosity which in turn is so important for true, attainable learning)
    • Knowing how to find out what they don't know - or when to have their students find out what they don't know - and bringing it back to class.
  • Great teachers express CONFIDENCE and COMFORT in their subject matter AND  in not always knowing ALL the answers.  Modeling 'not (always) knowing' will make it easier for your students to acknowledge what they don't know while strengthening and modeling intellectual curiosity.
  • Great teachers set EXPECTATIONS high (but obtainable) for themselves and for their students, facilitating and nurturing their attainment.
  • Great teachers ACKNOWLEDGE that there are all kinds of minds in their classrooms and 
  • Great teachers have the FLEXIBILITY to build and integrate multi-modal components into their lessons addressing auditory learners, visual learners, students with longer and shorter attention spans, students who easily can move sequentially along steps of a problems and those who need more structure (to name just a few).
  • Great teachers ENGAGE students, making the curriculum meaningful, pertinent, exciting, and getting students to critically evaluate and perceive issues in a variety of ways.
  •  Great teachers form PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS with their students, listening to their needs and their comments, acknowledging the right for different perspectives while GUARANTEEING A SAFE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT for all.
Before closing I want to thank you for your visit and send you off with clips of inspiration...view them all or chose your favorites: From Dead Poet's Society: "What will your verse be?"
From Dead Poet's Society: "Just when you think you know something, you must look at it in a different way...triving to find your own voice...Dare to strike out and find new ground!"
And maybe, the question isn't "What makes a great teacher" but "What great teachers make...a god damned difference!!!!!"
Thanks for your visit, please leave you opinions in the comments. 


  1. With my kids I have come across so many different teachers. One actually started as a gym teacher, and turned into an awful social studies teacher. Some have seemed plain mean, while others have passion, and inspire the kids to want to learn.

    Thanks for sharing with my NO RULES Weekend Blog Party :))


  2. Stopped in from Weekend Blog Hop and glad I did. I taught for ten years and it always seemed to me that test scores couldn't possibly tell it all, and you have hit it on the head. The personal characteristics you listed bring humanity to teaching and, in the end, we teach humans.

  3. Love this! Since I have so many kids, I think through the years, I've come across just about every different type of teacher imaginable. You've really described some of the best characteristics - and thankfully, I've known quite a few!

    Thank you for linking up with the GtKY hop!

  4. I came over thru the blog hop!
    I'm glad I did. This is interesting reading!
    Hope you come on over and say hi!

  5. My sister-in-law just started as a 4th grade teacher. She is all of this -

    "A great teacher must relate to his or her students, make learning come alive. bring out emotions and feelings in their students while addressing student fears and passions associated with learning."

    Those kids are lucky. She is one of those teachers that will change lives! I am so proud of her! Great post as always Meryl.

  6. A great teacher is one that inspires students to learn. Period. And we need some here in Taranaki, New Zealand!

  7. I have also dealt with many teachers over the years. Thankfully, I have liked most all of them. I think a good teacher is one who inspires, leads, and makes learning fun. One who will go that extra mile and not give up. I don't think test scores should be a complete reflection of a one's teaching ability. I know many fabulous teachers, yet some of their students just aren't good test takers.

    Great post!

  8. For me an essential ingredient in a great teacher is a passion for the subject he is teaching. That kind of passion ignites enthusiasm and curiosity in the student. It also usually ensures that the teacher has more than a passing knowledge in his subject.

  9. Always an educational and thought provoking stop to your blog posts! I wholeheartedly agree with your list-although I have very little credentials to stand on. What was most interesting is the statistic that started off the post. Pretty powerful fact.

  10. My teaching depends on my students. On their interests, on their enthusiasme. I show them how to find solutions and how to use the tools to work with. Sometimes I succeed and that makes me happy. Sometimes it doesn't work at all. Thanks for your post. The videos are very good. They show teachers who know what they want and who are convinced that they are right.
    Thanks for your visit and comment, Meryl! Have a great day and rest of the week.

    1. I can already tell that you are a great teacher Wil!

      Another great article to read once again, Meryl.

      Juice in Jars
      Your comment always bring joy to me, so leave me one when you can.

      Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  11. Interesting topic and I think I agree with those who mentioned passion for the subject being important. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  12. Loved reading this. You have described some of the best characteristics that a teacher should have. Our children our with these teachers for at least 8 hours a day. So far my daughter has been lucky to have some amazing teachers.

    Following you from the Thursday's Connect Cafe. Hope you can stop by to enter my Flower Ring/Watch giveaway and follow. Thanks and enjoy your night!

    Julie from Stlavonlady – Scatterbrained In St. Louis

  13. Thank you for this post. It highlights so many qualities that were lacking in my daughter's teachers, but flourished in my high school in the 70s. The more teachers must follow the "teach to the test" model, the less likely they are to HAVE a sense of judgment for themselves. We are failing our students if their parents/guardians are not involved, and the current trend toward "charter schools" (another term for "anything goes, but the public still pays for it") is crippling the entire concept of public education.

    I'm a Kellogg Fellow who worked on public education and better quality for the Buffalo, NY public schools. It was the silk-suited administrators who were the problem. Thanks for letting me vent! Peace, Amy

  14. Liked your characteristics list...Teaching starts at home and those can also be applied to parenting♫♪

  15. I agree with so many things in this post. I also think that great teachers have that special something that makes their students want to listen to them, or follow their directions too. I've seen really good people, with really good teaching ideas, a great curriculum, and desire and drive to teach, a lot of motivation, and a good support team fail miserably at teaching because their students just wouldn't listen to them or follow their directions. I'm not sure that 'special something' is taught either, I think it's inherent.

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