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NPR: 'Five Great Teachers on What Makes a Great Teacher'

NPR: 'Five Great Teachers on What Makes a Great Teacher'

At the beginning of the month, NPREd started its new series, 50 Great Teachers where they highlight the best teachers of all time. 

This week, NPREd gathered "an expert roundtable of educators who've also done a lot of thinking about teaching. Combined, these teachers are drawing on over 150 years of classroom experience", according to the article. When experienced teachers--including teachers who teach educators--are gathered and asked about their opinions on excellence in the profession, insightful answers are provided that non-teachers would also be wise to read.

The first teacher to share his thoughts was Ken Bain, president of Best Teachers Institute and college-level teacher for almost 50 years. The second teacher was Troy Cockrum, director of innovative teaching for a K-8 school in Indianapolis. The third, Eleanor Duckworth, is a research professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former elementary school teacher. The fourth teacher is Renee Moore, a high school and community college English teacher and blogger for the Center of Teaching Quality. The fifth was Jose Vilson, a math educator for a middle school teacher.

The first question asked during the roundtable was simply "What qualities make a great teacher?"

"Getting people to think about what they think, and asking them questions about it, is the best way I know how to teach," Duckworth said.

Another question was "What kind of training and experience makes a great teacher?"

Bain said that educators need to explore their own learning processes more and access some of the latest trends and data about learning so that they can reach their students. One might say that teachers need to be quick on their feet and can be more adaptable when they determine how best to create lifelong learners.

I know I'm going to get push back on this, but I think one of the major problems we face in cultivating great teachers is that we don't pay enough attention, especially in K-12, to the learning of the teacher. We should help them develop the dynamic powers of their minds and should continue to do so throughout their lives. Second, we should help them develop an understanding of some of the major ideas coming out of the research and theoretical literature on what it means to learn, how the human mind works, and all of the personal and social forces that can influence learning. This is a dynamic field with lots of important research and ideas emerging almost constantly, and the training and experience of a great teacher has to include the opportunity to explore, understand, and apply the ideas and information that is emerging. Finally, great teaching includes the ability to give good feedback and to make assessments.

One of the last questions was "Who, in your life, has embodied great teaching?"

Moore had more than one teacher that came to mind and she even named one particular teacher. It's always nice to get a public shout out.

I've been blessed to have had several great teachers in my life, starting with my father, who first taught me to love learning itself. Among my schoolteachers, the great ones included: Mrs. Bailey, a tall, elegant black woman who was the principal of our elementary school. She was one of the first educators I encountered who genuinely believed every child could learn, and would inspire us to attempt things we thought impossible.

Other questions asked included: "How do you know that you're having an impact?"; "What's the most important lesson you learned when you were just starting out?"; and "What's the biggest piece of advice you would share with an aspiring teacher?".

Read the full story and comment below about what you think makes a great teacher. Name a favorite teacher!

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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