There are few roles more critical to the UK’s economic success than teaching. Look at it this way – without thriving students leaving the education system and entering highly skilled roles, industrial growth will slow and the economy will falter. So what’s the secret to successful students? Talented teachers.
Behind every good student is a great teacher
In a guest article for Education Week Paul Ash wrote, ‘While it is well established that many factors can increase student performance, the most important factor is the quality of the classroom teacher’. Whatever the initiative, rule or regulation, a school is inevitably at the mercy of its teaching staff. But what makes a teacher great? Barnaby Lenon believes it comes down to four characteristics: A teacher’s love for their subject, their personality, their expectations of their students and lastly, their classroom skills. Put simply, it’s about setting clear learning goals whilst maximising lesson time and maintaining high standards of behaviour in class.
The Economist’s lead story for June, ‘How to make a good teacher’ reiterates previous findings that the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning as the bottom 10%. This significant variation in teaching quality demonstrates clearly how important getting the right teachers in post at schools.
No matter how much theoretical training you have, getting to grips with real pupils in real classrooms is the best method of learning the nuances of the profession. It’s time to challenge the preconception that teaching ability is something you either have. It’s something you can learn.
Teach the teacher
As with any industry or sector, the process of mastering a role doesn’t come from just theoretical grounding; expertise is developed over time through a mixture of practical experience and learning. For trainees or new teachers, this should come in the form of classroom time.
Finland, Singapore and Shanghai are known for their high-performing pupils as a consequence of practical apprenticeship systems. It doesn’t stop there though — with a ‘relentless focus on professional development throughout a teacher’s career’ in the form of training, mentoring and coaching, continuous professional development helps the teachers to deliver best-in-class training to their students across the board.
Some believe that big changes are needed in UK schools in order to ensure the same continuous professional development for teachers. By focusing on three core strands — a deep understanding of the subject, an awareness of how to teach it and an appreciation of how children learn — a teacher can develop their skills in order to become an expert teacher. It’s important to remember that this is a process of continuous improvement though. Subjects, methods and attitudes change over time and as such, the approach to teaching must move with it if it’s to remain the highest standard.
What does this mean for recruitment?
As the Economist writes, ‘Improving the quality of the average teacher would raise the profession’s prestige, setting up a virtuous circle in which more talented graduates clamoured to join it’.
Teaching is a profession to be celebrated because of its profound impact not only on the economy, but on all of the people it moulds into tomorrow’s professionals. If we focus on delivering the best teaching, the rest will surely follow.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.