Home >> A Issues >> What Makes Teachers Good?

Search form

Home >School Issues Channel >Archives >StarrPoints > School Issues Article
S C H O O L I S S U E S A R T I C L E

What Makes Teachers Good?

What Makes Teachers Good?
Share StarrPoints

There's no doubt that experience matters and that hands-on classroom experience is important, but so is knowledge of all the factors involved in teaching young people. Employing the same poorly defined teaching methods over and over again -- methods that are the result of a lack of knowledge of educational theory and practices -- does not produce a better teacher.


Last week, the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation released a report examining the relationship between Maryland's teacher certification requirements and teacher quality. Maryland -- as most other states do -- requires candidates for teacher certification to have taken a certain number and type of education and subject matter courses. In reviewing the results of more than 150 studies conducted over a 50-year period, Abell researchers found "little evidence" that the required courses affected either teacher quality or student achievement.

The report, Teacher Certification Reconsidered: Stumbling for Quality concluded that "Maryland should eliminate the coursework requirements for teacher certification in favor of much simpler and more- flexible rules for entry. The only fixed requirement should be a bachelor's degree and a passing score on an appropriate teacher's exam."

Join Discussion
Look What She Starr-ted!

In today's StarrPoints, columnist Linda Starr reacts to a recent report calling for the elimination of coursework criteria for teacher certification. What do you think? Is subject matter knowledge and classroom experience all that's needed for effective teaching? Share your reflections on a StarrPoints message board.


Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four "nearly grown" children, has been an education writer for almost a decade. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

Previous StarrPoints

In other words, individuals who graduate from college with a degree in education are not more effective teachers than individuals who graduate from college with a degree in -- say -- mathematics. Therefore, we should no longer require teachers to have a degree in education. Does it follow, then, that if an individual with a degree in -- say -- nuclear physics is not a better nuclear physicist than an individual with a degree in English, we should no longer require nuclear physicists to have science degrees?

Of course not. Everyone knows that nuclear physics requires certain knowledge and skills that, if they are not learned, make an individual unsuited to work in the field. Many people continue to believe, however, that "anyone can teach." This report comes perilously close to endorsing that belief.

The fact is that good teaching -- like any other creative endeavor -- is a skill and an art. Teaching requires a thorough understanding of subject matter and the ability to break a body of subject matter into logical, easily understandable parts; knowledge of a variety of learning styles and the development of teaching strategies to accommodate them; enthusiasm for the subject matter and the resources to engage and motivate a group of learners, each at a different level of ability and achievement; management skills and the knowledge of specific classroom management techniques; the ability to work with people of all ages, abilities, and beliefs and a knowledge of specific language and behaviors that promote good working relationships; an understanding of how socio-economic factors affect learning and the development of strategies to overcome factors that are detrimental to learning; well-developed verbal skills and the ability to communicate with those with poor language skills; understanding and discipline; imagination and much, much more.

Teaching is not a job anyone can do. It is not a job that can be done well without a thorough grounding in pedagogy and lots of hands-on training. If preservice education programs aren't graduating better teachers than those coming to the field through alternate routes, as the Abell Foundation report suggests, then perhaps we need to take a look -- not at our certification requirements -- but at our preservice education programs. Instead of lowering requirements for teacher certification, perhaps states need to raise -- or at least better define -- their standards for preservice education courses.

Alternative routes to teaching have their place. They help reduce teacher shortages and they provide a way for subject matter experts to enter teaching. They should, however, represent only a temporary solution, an opportunity for individuals who have the potential to be good teachers to transition into the classroom while they learn what they need to learn to become good teachers.

There's no doubt that classroom experience matters and that subject matter expertise is vital, but so is knowledge of all the factors involved in teaching young people. Employing the same poorly defined teaching methods over and over again -- methods that are the result of a lack of knowledge of educational theory and practices -- does not produce a better teacher.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." The truth is that those who can do can't automatically teach. Good teachers are able to do and to teach. That's what teacher education programs are all about!