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Can You Spot a Good Teacher?

One of the major focuses of my Masters Degree program in Educational Leadership was on this specific question. What does good teaching look like? If you walk into a classroom,, what are you looking for?

As a School Principal and Superintendent, it’s critical that I know what I’m looking for. How can I properly evaluate staff, how can I ensure good instruction is taking place within a school, if I don’t know what good teaching looks like.

But for many people, especially the public, they are not trained in observational skills. They don’t know what a good teacher looks like.

This article will outline what a Good Teacher actually looks like.

Skill #1 Command of the class: A good teacher has presence in the classroom. This is even more important with online or hybrid teaching because if students are not paying attention to the Teacher, then they aren’t going to learn the tasks and objectives of the lesson.

Skill #2 Clear Communication: Teachers are required to write lesson plans before they teach. The reason for this is because the lesson plan clearly states the objective of the lesson. If the Teacher does not clearly state the objective at the very beginning of the lesson, even the most intelligent and intuitive students will be lost. And in a hybrid and online educational world — teachers cannot afford to confuse their students at all. The margin for error on this one teacher ability is very small.

Skill #3 Positive Attitude: It may seem obvious to you, but not everyone has a positive attitude. But not having a positive attitude as a Teacher can be a huge disadvantage for those students. Teachers must see their role as the guide through learning. A guide does not berate their tour for taking a wrong turn. The tour doesn’t know where they are going, they are relying on the guide to show them the way. A Teacher must remain calm, and positive no matter how far off the path the students go.

Skill #4 Teaching Skills: This is the most misunderstood aspect of being a good teacher. The biggest mistake for people to make is that anyone that is an expert in their content is a good teacher. This is just flat-out wrong. Just because someone is an expert in their content, does not mean they will be good at communicating that expertise. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” education policy made us all think that Teachers needed to be experts in their content area. But the truth is that Teachers need to have a solid foundation in their content area, but don’t need to be experts. Being an expert in teaching skills is more critical. What are teaching skills? Writing targeted and focused lesson plans is a skill. The lesson plan is the script for the class. How many tasks will the Teacher give. Are there easier tasks and harder tasks? How will the Teacher check for understanding and how often? Does the Teacher take good lesson notes? And lastly, how good does the Teacher collaborate and share with other Teachers in the school? Every one of these skills is way more important than being an expert on content.

Skill #5 Self-Reflection: The public won’t be privy to this skill of the Teacher, but as a former Principal and Superintendent, I always knew that the Good Teachers kept a journal or self-reflection notes regularly about their class and their practice. I had a very open door policy, which meant some of my staff would share their self-reflections with me and ask for feedback. This was a really great opportunity to help the Teacher learn and grow. It can be hard to be self-critical, but Teachers that do this regularly always turn out to be the best Teachers in the school. If you want, ask your child’s teacher. Do you do regular self-reflection?

Skill #6 Assessment: Don’t shoot the messenger. Unfortunately, Teachers receive very little training in college programs or mentor programs on assessment and the best strategies and approaches. Most Teachers rely heavily on commercially produced quizzes and exams. It’s not their fault and we should not blame Teachers. Most of them were never trained how to assess student learning. But one of the most important aspects of Teaching is to know if the students understood what was taught. This is not an easy task to accomplish. And even the best Teachers use multiple techniques and sources of evidence to accurately determine student understanding. But that’s the point. This is one of the more complicated aspects of the job. It takes time to be good at assessment. It takes time to be good at being a Teacher.

About the Author: D.Scott Schwartz is a former Principal and Superintendent in New Jersey. He spent a total of 20 years inside schools. In 2013, he began the Education Development Institute to help Teachers and Administrators take their careers to the Next Level, through targeted and higher level professional development workshops and community building. Over the last 7-years, he has influenced over 5000 educators in New Jersey. He has written multiple Teacher and Principal workbooks, and has developed a Membership Website for Teachers to join a supportive community that also includes annual professional development for Teachers as a One-Stop Resource. He also consults with Special Education attorneys in New Jersey related to in-district programming.



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Professor Schwartz

Professor Schwartz

Former Superintendent | Ed Consultant | Speaker/Author — Go to my homepage at