19 November, 2010

Ten Common Characteristics of Good Teachers

By Denis Hayes
It is true that different teachers have different teaching style. However, there are some common characteristics of a good teacher. These are as follows:

1. Good teachers plan their session/lessons thoroughly, with regard to not only curriculum requirements, but also taking account of health and safety factors, stimulating a positive learning climate and giving pupils opportunity to expand and deepen their knowledge and understanding by grappling with relevant issues, asking questions and reinforcing knowledge.
Teaching Hint
Before you begin, mentally rehearse the session. Listen inside your head to the way you will introduce the subject. Imagine pupils’ responses. Give careful thought to lessen transitions. Think through the location and accessibility of resources. Anticipate hazards, possible interruptions and how you will respond the queries. A ‘dry run’ of the lesson can enhance the quality of your teaching in unexpected ways.

2. Good teachers build on and work with knowledge that a pupil already possesses and do not make poorly informed assumptions about pupils’ existing understanding. While it is not possible to know everything that a child has absorbed in fine detail, affirm grasp of it helps teachers to plan, organize and manage a lesson with greater efficiency. A lesson in which teachers spend time in reviewing previous learning or revising earlier knowledge will be different in character from one in which previous learning is secure and can therefore be safely built on without revision.
Teaching Hint
A characteristic of inexperienced teachers is a tendency to rush ahead with the immediate work without checking pupils’ grasp of previous learning. Do not fall into this trap in your desire to inject ‘pace’ into the lesson. Take time to consider the minimum that pupils need to know and understand before they can grasp the new knowledge that you are about to introduce. Think in terms of four factors:
Content knowledge
For example, if pupils cannot add in multiplies of two there is a little point in attempting division by two. If content relies on pupils memorizing previous work, some revision of earlier learning is necessary through question and answer, a simple game or teacher summary.
Although pupils need to become familiar with a range of terms associated with a specific area of work (e.g. radius, circumference, diameter) they will not understand the meaning of the words unless you take the time to explain and explore them thoroughly.
For example, you cannot assume that pupils will understand what is meant by ‘air pressure’ or ‘orientation’ or ‘multiplies’. Children become confused if you use the word ‘subtract’ when they are only familiar with ‘minus’ or ‘take away’.
Tasks and activities
Most curriculum programmes and schemes of work are based on the assumption that it is possible to assess pupils’ learning precisely and target the task such that it ‘matches’ each pupil’s need. Although the broad principle is commendable, it is unwise to overstate the precision with which the matching can be made. Each pupil needs opportunities to explore and investigate concepts, as well as completing the set work.

3. Good teachers develop the ability to teach a class or group in a relaxed way but without losing authority and respect. Being friendly is not confused with timidity or ‘being one of the pupils’. The teacher’s behaviour, conversation, responses and tone do not invite pupil ridicule or tempt them to take advantage of a situation. Friendly teachers lay down the rules unequivocally from the start and insist on compliance. This firm approach should not be confused with unreasonableness or harshness.
Teaching Hint
Emphasize what you expect from pupils as much as, if not more than, what you do not expect. If possible, offer a balanced comment. For example, Ben, please stop talking to Alan and finish the last problem by half past eleven. I will come and see how you are getting along in a minute. Authority as a teacher resides in your ability to gain pupils’ respect by being reasonable, calm, interested in what is said and fair in your dealings. If you want to emulate the quiet authority possessed by the best teachers and assistants, you must learn to evaluate situations quickly and discover what lies behind the behaviour as well as noting its outward manifestation.

4. Good teachers are approachable when a pupil needs academic or personal help, as well as accessible to parents and staff members. Every study of pupils’ attitude towards teachers show that pupils like teachers who are willing to clarify questions, explain carefully and show patience where there is a genuine uncertainty. (Parents deserve to receive similar courtesies.) It is viewed as counter-productive to grumble or chastise unduly, even if a pupil is distracted and should have paid closer attention when the initial explanation or instruction was given.
Teaching Hint
Use pupils’ names as much in situations of approval as you do in situations of rebuke. It is easy to say the name of mischievous pupil a dozen times in a negative context during a session. Imagine that you are a pupil that struggles to behave, always in and out of trouble and hearing your name barked at you throughout the day. It merely contributes to low self-worth and may help to promote anti-authority attitudes. By contrast, if pupils associate their names with positive and confirming comments, they grow in stature and confidence. The world looks a better place!

5. Good teachers use Standard English consistently. This practice is important because young pupils, slow learners and pupils for whom English is an additional language particularly benefit from carefully articulated speech. Speaking carefully does not mean being artificial, elaborate, or unnatural, just easy on the ear and clear.
Teaching Hint
When saying something important to pupils, slow the rate of speech and slightly exaggerate the words. Place an emphasis on consonants especially at the end of words. Do not be afraid to repeat key phrases or ask the pupils to repeat them in unison. Remember that even pupils for whom English is a first language do not always absorb what is said first time, so reinforcement is necessary for even the brightest ones.

6. Good teachers talk to pupils in a way that they can understand, using language that is appropriate to their age and experience. They are sensitive to the danger that their enthusiasm for the subject can result in them getting carried away with the sound of their own voices and failing to notice that their eloquent phrases and sophisticated vocabulary are making little impression on an increasingly bewildered group of pupils.
Teaching Hint
Learn to hear the sound of your own voice and imagine that you are a pupil having to listen to it. Look for ways in which complex phrases and expressions can be simplified. In all forms of teaching, you can gauge the impact of your words by observing pupils’ faces; passivity often indicates confusion (though it may also indicate thoughtfulness); smiles and nods usually indicated a grasp of what is being said to them. You can ask the pupils to indicate their understanding non-verbally, for example ‘nod twice if you understand’.

7. Good teachers have belief in their teaching abilities and in the pupils as learners. All successful teachers sound confident, even if they do not feel that way, and reassure pupils by giving every impression of being in charge of the situation. Confidence should not be confused with arrogance or supercilious attitude that merely irritates both pupils and adults. It is especially important for novice teachers to be open to new ideas and willing to learn from colleagues, but this should be seen as a means of building on strengths rather a form of professional remedial work. The greatest boost to confidence comes, of course, when teachers experience success in their teaching.
Teaching Hint
Preserve with establishing and maintaining eye contact with pupils. When you speak, communicate the things you say in such a way that each pupil feel that you are speaking to him or her individually. It takes practice and experience to develop the habit of catching the eye of all the pupils and smiling reassuringly, but is a skill that merits perseverance.

8. Good teachers take careful account of the needs of individuals: academically, emotionally and physically. Every child is asking in her or his mind: ‘Does this adult care about me?’ Primary aged pupils are often desperate to enjoy a good relationship with adults, though there are a few sad exceptions. Even in situations dominated by academic priorities, carefulness and an optimistic approach can transform a pupil’s attitude and give much-needed hope.
Teaching Hint
Watch a skilled teaching assistant at work. Notice how she listens carefully to each pupil and makes him or her feel special. Watch the TA’s positive body language. Hear how her responses make it seem as if she is fascinated by what the pupils says. The truth is that she really is fascinated! Learn to treat everything a pupil says as if it were the first time that you had heard it. Demonstrate your delight by opening your eyes wide, smiling and declaring your amazement. If time permits and it seems appropriate, ask a follow up question. For instance, a child tells you that she has two dogs at home and you respond by asking whether one of them is greedier than the other. Watch how the child explodes into life.

9. A good teacher is able to work as team member, both contributing and receiving from others, because no teacher, however skilled and talented, can succeed by operating in isolation. Decisions that draw on collaborative action have a better chance of being correct ones. Trainee teachers are often judged by the extent to which they are willing to play their part in staff discussions, so if a teacher offers advice, they should be grateful and respond eagerly! Occasionally, trainees decide that the advice is inappropriate, in which case it is essential for them to discuss the matter further with the teacher, otherwise it may appear to the host that the trainee is being arrogant.
Teaching Hint
During your teaching refer occasionally to conversations you have had with other members of staff; this strategy will reinforce in the pupils’ minds the fact that adults talk to each other and that you are part of the network. Throughout the lesson, involve the teaching assistant or helper by asking for her thoughts, confirmation or reinforcement of the ideas being explored. This strategy greatly enhances your standing among the pupils and the adults.

10. Good teachers use a great deal of encouragement and small amounts of praise. It can be tempting to flood pupils with congratulatory comments when their effort, work, behaviour, answers to questions, and so forth do not justify such accolades. If adults are too liberal with their approval, pupils become blasé about striving for excellence, knowing that they will receive approval for modest effort. By contrast, regular encouragement promotes a climate of determination and perseverance to achieve the best outcome, which leads to praise and adult approval.
Teaching Hint
Develop the habit of occasionally asking pupils for their opinion of what they are doing. Initially, many will reply with a superficial comment, such as ‘I think it is good’ or ‘rubbish’ but with careful prompting you can gradually elicit a more constructive response. For example, you might ask for comment on a pupil’s still life drawing. In the discussion, you might employ some of the following questions: ‘Are you happy with the proportions?’ or ‘How pleased are you that you have shown all the details of the face?’ When referring to a piece of descriptive writing you might prompt a more thoughtful response by asking: ‘How difficult was it to avoid making your writing into a list?’ or ‘How satisfied are you that the reader will recognize your description?’ It is generally better to ask more open-ended questions than questions that invite a single word answer. It is also wise to avoid giving impression that your questions are, in reality, a way of criticizing or assessing the work quality-though, of course, it is a part of your job to monitor progress and offer guidance about improvement.

Read, Learn & Flourish!

For Your Success & Glory!