You hear a lot these days about the effective teacher. It is the subject of many books and countless journal articles. Television documentaries and radio talk shows bounce the topic around with great frequency.
The Washington Post has headlines on a regular basis proclaiming they have the secret to what makes an effective teacher. So does the Los Angeles Times. And, ASCD sells a set of video tapes entitled, “The Effective Teacher.” With the exception of the latter, none of these who write or talk about effective teachers are teachers. They had teachers, of course, in their own lives and, sometimes, they have children who have teachers. Some even have children who are teachers, but these are few and far between. Most do not have a relationship that close. But, hey, whoever said you had to know anything about a topic to talk about it? And, I had to admit it was a subject of some interest. I wanted to find out the answer—just what is an effective teacher anyway?
I carefully read and listened to all the above sources but an answer to the question was not forthcoming. Everyone had a different idea. Lots of attributes of effective teachers were discussed, but I never heard the same attribute mentioned more than once. There certainly was no agreement on this issue—at least 500 different qualities of effective teachers have been mentioned just in this last year! No one seems to actually know. I decided to approach teachers—real teachers—with the question. Guess what? They don’t know, either. They’d never thought about it, so they said. Well, neither had I, but I decided that maybe it was time. Seems to me, this topic needs to be nailed down. Just what is an effective teacher? What are their characteristics? I started a list. I have 14, so far. See what you think.
- The effective teacher is efficacious. She believes she has a direct impact on the students. What she does in terms of teaching has an effect in terms of student learning. The effective teacher definitely makes a difference—and she knows it!
- The effective teacher assumes responsibility for the learning and behavior of her students. She does not blame the school, the parents, the principal, or last year’s teacher. The effective teacher knows she has the power to effect change—now!
- The effective teacher believes that all students can learn. She teaches, always, with that in mind.
- The effective teacher makes decisions based on a sound knowledge/research base. Interventions and initiatives are always selected from research on best practices and they are applied with appropriate modifications based on knowledge of the students she teaches. The effective teacher is the decision-maker, but those decisions are informed by the professional knowledge base.
- The effective teacher demonstrates a deep understanding of both content and pedagogy.
- The effective teacher designs and implements coherent instruction that meets the needs of all students.
- The effective teacher assesses continually and uses the results of that assessment to inform instruction. The effective teacher knows, without a doubt, that data matters.
- The effective teacher is committed to the development of self-control and autonomy in her students. Her goal is to become obsolete in the lives of the kids she teaches!
- The effective teacher engages all students in learning. She makes learning relevant and meaningful.
- The effective teacher is reflective about her teaching and designs a systematic professional growth plan that is implemented on a continuous and ongoing basis.
- The effective teacher fulfills all professional responsibilities to students, to parents, to colleagues, to her administrators, to her school, and to her community. She makes significant and regular contributions to her district and to her profession.
- The effective teacher realizes she is not an independent contractor, but rather is a member of a learning organization and works always to move that organization ahead. The effective teacher assumes responsibility for the learning of all the students in her school, not just those in her classroom.
- The effective teacher is collaborative with all staff members and assumes the responsibility for the learning of every other teacher. An effective teacher knows she cannot be successful unless every teacher is successful.
- The effective teacher maintains balance between her professional and personal lives.
My list is not intended to be either exhaustive or conclusive. But, it is a beginning. Will it change? Absolutely. As I learn more about teaching, the list will need to be updated. I see it as a perpetual first draft. But, if I ever expect to be effective at this thing called teaching, I’d better start figuring out what the heck I am supposed to do!