TED Conversations

Vice Principal, Educator - High School

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What is the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?

I am curious to know what people consider the attributes that separate good from great. I would also like to know what you think would motivate a person who is a good teacher to aspire for that same greatness. Thanks for your ideas!


Closing Statement from Gene Doray

Firstly, I am deeply appreciative of the thoughtful commentaries by all. As both a teacher and an administrator, I have a strong investment in finding out what motivates people to improve their practice. Passion for their subject area? Passion for student success? A combination of both? For me it boils down to the desire to make a positive impact and improve the life chances of all students. I believe it is an honour to have the opportunity to play such an important role in the lives of our children.
When I posed the question, in the back of my mind I was thinking about a quotation that I had heard that sought to explain why we had so few "great schools". It was something like, "the reason we only have a few great schools is that we have so many good ones." The statement first caused me to ponder what traits the speaker used to differentiate the two, but later I focused on the notion of "complacency". So, I wondered "aloud" what it is that causes a person to strive for more. Once again, thanks for sharing your ideas and insights with us all. I apologize for not being involved for the past several weeks as I was enjoying some family time on an island with no computer in sight!

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    Jul 2 2011: I love reading these comments. I am an educator and I know that I am not great for all students all of the time. Most days, if I can "do no harm" first and then build on that in some way, it was a successful day. I can speak to the fact that as a teacher, if you study hard and work hard and put in the time AND are really lucky, you will have moments of greatness with your students. You will live for those, you will live ON those, for days and weeks, and sometimes years.

    A lot of things contribute to this: budgets, large classes, more responsibilities than can fit into a day, families - both the ones that actively harm their children and the ones that do it just by cordial neglect..

    For me, a great teacher is one that never stops trying, never stops learning, and never stops caring. There is never just one answer - for us or our students - and never just one way to solve a problem.
    • Jul 3 2011: Sushan, without question teaching is a vocation of the heart, and I hope that you continue to share yours with your students. You are absolutely right about the many ways to solve a problem - problem solving often seems to be an integral part of teaching. Do you see the role of the teacher changing in the not-too-distant future? Words like "facilitator" and "guide" are often used to describe the shift we are being prepared for.
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        Jul 3 2011: The teaching role has changed in the 10 years I have been in education and I think continues to do so. When i was in school, the switch was from "the sage on the stage" (the teacher as expert, impart-er of knowledge and lecture-style classrooms) to "the guide at the side." I don't think there is a name yet for what teachers will have to become in the future, digital, mobile model of education.
        • Jul 3 2011: Sushan, I am intrigued by the hybrid model that you work within. What are the structures that support it? Do you still have regular bell schedules and homerooms? Are students assigned mentors? Is there a sense among students that one version (classroom or virtual) is "easier" than the other?
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        Jul 3 2011: Hi, Gene - Students belong to an advisory group based on their individualized curriculum, ability, age, and social-emotional dynamics. One teacher has about 15 students per advisory group; middle school students are on campus two days a week, high-schoolers are there the other two. Fridays are teacher workdays for collaboration and training with some extra activities for college-bound students. Students work from home (or in our open computer lab or in parent-led study groups) whatever other hours are needed to stay on target in their lessons.

        On their days on campus, students do have "lab time" - they also receive hands-on, direct instruction in Math, SS/Sci, and LA in the morning and participate in SmartLab, Service Learning, and Global Studies (learning a foreign language via Rosetta Stone and studying about the regions that use that language - we are still trying to link up with classrooms in other countries if anyone has info on that).

        To answer your final query, I think our students would say that this type of learning is harder than a regular classroom. They get to move at their own pace, but a lot is expected in terms of accountability and student-ownership. the pride that they feel at the end is exciting - they know exactly how much they have accomplished.
        • Jul 3 2011: Do your high school students have to write standardized exams (other than the SAT) at the completion of their schooling or do you have different ways for students to demonstrate their learning? Is your school a charter, private, or public school? Students are at school 2-3 days per week? Could you provide a school website so I can learn more about the philosophy and the practical applications. Thanks, again, for your input.
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        Jul 4 2011: Briefly, because obviously I love to talk shop: I work at Taos Academy Charter School. Because we are chartered and funded directly by the state of NM, we are considered our own district for funding and enrollment. Enrollment is by lottery and is free as we are a public school. More can be found at:

        I think this link has a copy of our charter attached as well.

        Testing: Students complete three short-cycle assessments plus NMSBA testing (mandated by the state) per year. 11th graders take proficiency tests (also mandated by the state) for graduation requirements.

        On campus time: Students are on campus 2 days/week in their advisory groups. We also have an open computer lab available during off-days and 10th-12th graders often take dual credit courses at UNM campus.
        • Jul 4 2011: Thanks for the link. What do your Fridays look like? Is it truly the professional learning communities at work? Do teachers feel connected to students the same way they would in a more formal schooling situation where you see your students on a daily basis?
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        Jul 5 2011: Hi, Gene - Love all your questions. I am actually hoping our students can spearhead a TEDx event in the next year or so, so hopefully then you can see some of the amazing things they do for yourself. Til then, I'll keep trying to answer:
        Two Fridays/month are staff days for staff development - training, collaboration, best practices sharing. One staff meeting/week is an EQ one, devoted to increasing communication and raising emotional intelligence in our staff and curriculum.
        As to if teachers feel connected with their students in the same way, I have talked about this to many of my colleagues - most of us come from a traditional classroom setting and yes, there is definitely a difference and a transition to a new style of teaching. That said, I can speak knowledgeably to how any one of my students is doing in all four of their core classes (LA, Math, Sci and SS plus foreign language) at any time. Parents receive narrative progress reports for the advisor teachers weekly, plus an automated one from the learning platform. I do not think that that is the norm in most public schools, especially high schools, where a teacher could see up to 150 students/day in just their one subject area.
        So, yes, you do feel connected to your students and especially to their families as a whole. Because of the two-day nature of the school, this HAS to be a collaborative effort. My students communicate with me often via email, phone, and Skype as needed - just because they are not on campus doesn't mean they do not have access to their teacher!
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      Jul 5 2011: I love what you say about never stop trying. Maybe we as teachers have tried many ways to give students what they want, however, we may not totally reach their heart and give they what they really need. Although with a little bit of frustration, I believe the energy and courage keep coming from inside as a teacher keep fighting.
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        Jul 5 2011: Thanks, Karen - I think one of the toughest times as a teacher is when you are so emotionally invested in your students that what they want vs. what they may need from you are a bit harder to figure out. It is also a sign of a truly important "teaching moment" on the horizon...

        The students have to have the trust that if you ask them to do something, it is because you know that they can do it (might still be hard, though!).
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    Jul 1 2011: Good teachers - and I had many - taught me the subject matter: science, math, languages.
    Great teachers - and I had only a few - taught me what matters: passion, discipline, justice.

    What would motivate? I guess the sparkle in students' eyes.
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      Jul 1 2011: A nice definition - interesting how the most inspiring teachers don't necessarily adhere to delivering solely curriculum content.
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        Jul 1 2011: My best teachers always treated the curriculum the way a skilled tailor treats a coat hanger. A useful tool but something that needs to be adorn to be relevant. And of course some of my greatest teachers weren't teachers.
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          Jul 1 2011: I agree - a qualification on paper does not necessarily endow someone with the skills to be a great teacher.

          Also, a good point about the curriculum. In NZ, we're lucky to have a flexible curriculum that focuses more and more on skill acquisition and, what the Ministry of Ed here terms, Key Competencies.

          This allows for a semblance of structure without dictating everything to teachers and students.
        • Jul 3 2011: When I reflect on some of the best teachers I have had, and many that I have worked with, what becomes clear to me is what they share in common: passion for their subjects and compassion for their students.
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      Jul 2 2011: With regards to English Language Arts

      A good teacher will teach you how to write.

      A great teacher will teach you how to enlighten via any medium.

      In general

      A good teacher goes through the motion of their job: cover the curriculum, keep students quiet, mark tests etc.

      A great teacher emphasizes the "why" and "how" of the answers instead of just the "what".
  • Jul 6 2011: Top 5 (+14) Characters of Great Teachers by Students (Survey)

    1. Inspired me and never let me settle for anything less than my best
    2. Compassionate, caring, made me feel important and welcomed, made a personal connection with me
    3. Were demanding, pushed me hard
    4. Had a great sense of humor
    5. Knowledge of the subject matter

    Other specifics

    1. Wasn’t afraid of what other people thought
    2. Passion for the subject matter
    3. Challenged me to think beyond just the answer in the textbook
    4. Listened to my ideas
    5. Taught me new things
    6. A terrific fund raiser
    7. Kept things interesting
    8. They were interactive
    9. Added personal elements to the classroom
    10. Organized
    11. Wasn’t fake or shallow with comments to students
    12. Discipline
    13. Confidence
    14. They were problem solvers, rather than simply problem identifiers

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      Jul 6 2011: Nice addition Shokrullah! Thanks for including the student based perspective.
      • Jul 7 2011: Thank you; I always believe in a beneficiary oriented strategies
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    Jul 5 2011: Like how the Chinese proverb goes - Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day; Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime

    May be that's the difference between a good and a great teacher

    Concluding - Great teachers not just enlighten, but empower too
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      Jul 5 2011: Yes I think great teachers do that.

      I teach theatre/performing arts to children and I have two quotes that sum up what I aspire to be as a teacher.

      The first:
      "It's not, 'How smart is the child?' It's, 'How is the child smart?'" -Jim Greenman, author & educator

      The second:
      "Teach a child to fish and he will know how to fish. But teach a child to BE a fish - Now you've taught her something!" -Me (something of a "play" on the quote you mentioned)
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        Jul 6 2011: Agreed Jim

        Its like "doing different things v/s doing things differently"
    • Jul 6 2011: Yes, Krishna I agree. Nice insight.
  • Jul 4 2011: This is an interesting discussion but first lets get away from good to great shall we... it was a book but perhaps there are other ways to measure successful teachers. I think that a lifelong commitment as a learner is first in foremost in being a successful teacher. Most teachers begin their careers in their undergraduate studies as tutors or in a lab setting assisting students of various ages. At this point the capacity of learning content is being built but not quite applied... the desire to learn and grow through trial and error and exposure to advanced content allows the young teacher to advance into the beginning of the craft... you have to be committed to learning for a lifetime first before you can lead others down that path. education is the one area that recieves all types of media attention for its failing system in America. we build relationships, we teach content, we differentiate, analyze data, prpvide feedback, basically work hard at the education process... with all this in my mind why do we not evaluate the lifelong learning process that we all go through? Great teachers never stop questioning or learning outside of their educational setting. College professors teach but also write, research, and continue to advance thier content... why are we not doing that in all settings and why are we only evaluating a small segment of our population in their academic progress? sucessful teachers are lifelong learners who share their learnings with all of those around them... thier students, colleagues, bureacratic administrators, etc... It all comes down to the the Socratic question of "why?" and then the pursuit of knowledge and the sharing of that knowledge with a community of active learners.
    • Jul 4 2011: Thank you, Adam, if I could I would give your comment more thumbs-up,
      keep learning and sharing, may be it'll help you to succeed as a teacher, if not, never mind, you'll enjoy the ride anyway.
    • Jul 5 2011: Adam, I respect your opinion and description of what teachers ought to be: models of lifelong learning, passionate about their subject area and even more so the students that they teach (those points were inferred); however, I wonder what it is that causes a person to continue to self reflect and self motivate. As both a teacher and an administrator for the past twenty years, I have seen many examples of teachers who do that very thing, and many who have mastered their curriculum and are simply content to deliver it again and again with little thought to improving the opportunities/methods for learning. We know that motivating others is a challenging and perhaps fruitless task, so what impetus do you think exists for a teacher - who is clearly competent - to self motivate to improve from the status quo? What do you think about professional learning? Do you know if it is mandated where you are from or is it left to individuals? I have worked with a staff to create our own "This We Believe" statements as the framework that connects our words to our actions, and while many staff members were engaged in the process - sharing ideas, discussing best practices, and gaining a feeling of collective purpose, there were those who were uninvolved either because of the "been there, done that" mentality or didn't feel connected. Any suggestions as to how to encourage staff to become lifelong learners and model that which they espouse? Thanks for your thoughts!
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        Jul 6 2011: Gene, I'm not sure if this is appropriate, if I am barking up the wrong tree, or if you do this anyway - but as a counsellor and psychotherapist I am required professionally to have regular 'supervision' sessions every two weeks with another trained supervisory psychotherapist. These sessions allow me to offload all the client issues that I am finding bothersome at the time - and also to discuss and affirm good practice, and to keep me working professionally.

        I am just wondering if similar, mandatory discussion sessions such as this with teacher supervisors would also be appropriate in the teaching profession?
        • Jul 6 2011: Allan,
          As administrators, we do try to embed time for collaboration within the school day - in some schools this is easier to do than others. However, we also look to support team teaching, mentorship, and conversations around best practice. The isolation of teachers is a challenge as they can go entire careers without seeing their peers in action. We also offer to cover classes so that teachers can work together and help one another to improve their respective practices. The idea of professional learning communities has been with us for some time, but it isn't necessarily in place in many schools. As a former high school counsellor, I remember fondly what you describe as those routine meetings where we "unloaded" and shared our ideas to support one another. I saw it as an essential aspect of my own professional learning. Thanks for your comments.
      • Jul 13 2011: Gene,
        Havent had time to post in a week or so, but i wanted to comment on the time set aside for teacher collaboration and design. I have only been in education for fourteen years, but in that time I have been fortunate to work in the elementary, middle, and high school settings. It is always the goal of the administrator to provide adequate time for collaboration but the reality is that time during the school day with students in the building is limited. Making copies, calling parents, scheduled IEP/504 meetings, staff-development and other items can often interfere with that planning time. There are many factors that we must consider in looking at our educational system and creating a series or processes or protocols that will engage teachers to be more collaborative. You can provide two hours or uninterrupted planning tiime but if the team capacity is not built then collaboration will not occur. Working independently in your classroom does not foster collaboration also teachers are a lot like students in that they do not want to wait for others and may prefer to do the work and planning themselves. First, I beleive we must address the length of the school day and the school year for both students and teachers. In my state of North Carolina students attend school for 185 days starting this year. i think we should consider a 190 day year with scheduled strategic breaks for students and families. Teachers should have their work days and work year extended to allow time to meet with no students in the school building and with no pre-determinded staff development assigned by the local education agency. Teachers need strategic time to plan, analyze student work samples, and to design engaging units that teach skills but engage students in projects that foster a deeper level of critical thinking skills and integration of knowledge into their daily lives. We need to stop looking at education as a fall /spring opportunity but instead a year long opportunity.
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    Jul 2 2011: A good teacher does his best to give knowledge to his students. A great teacher makes his students love learning.
    • Jul 3 2011: A great definition! How do you think the great teacher achieves this success?
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        Jul 3 2011: This question is actually really challenging one. Answer is complicated, but here is what I think:
        I think that great teachers are born to be that way. But at fundamental level or at 'classroom' level, a great teacher can see the world from their students' eyes, and find best way of teaching every single one of his students. Finding a different and best approach is crucial. The key for becoming a great teacher is realizing that every student is actually unique and they all have their own perspective of the world, and that no student prefers to be taught in a way that he doesn't like.
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          Jul 3 2011: I once heard that a great teacher is one who makes learning likely, not just possible.
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    Jul 2 2011: Agree with Caleb, Jaime & Scott and want to rephrase as below

    Good teacher make students understand best the things herself / himself undertands best.
    Great teacher knows strengths & weaknesses of her/his student and work accordingly and let them grow with their own potential.
    • Jul 2 2011: A complaint from many teachers is that with so many students under their supervision, it is hard to really get to know their students' potential. Any thoughts as to how great teachers are able to get to that goal? Thanks for your ideas.
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        Jul 2 2011: Gene, let children learn under their own pace with khanacademy.org then more time can be devoted in personally engaging and caring each student.

        I agree with with the idea of knowing more and understanding more our students because the students don't care what you teach unitl they know how much you care.
        • Jul 3 2011: Joe, I have seen the khanacademy.org sight recently and I am sure that it has a lot to offer many kids. However, having recently had the experience of working with an exceptional student that chose a "blended" program - part of her coursework at our school, and a few additional courses through a similar on-line version - her comments about the lack of meaningful face to face interaction with peers and adults caught my attention. The socialization of the classroom, and the "real time" participation aided in her understanding...according to her. Certainly technology has many advantages, but it is still "just a tool". And, the point that you bring up about caring was entirely absent from the online relationship. I do see merits to both virtual and "bricks and mortar" education, but I wonder how the role of the teacher will change, and how to balance learning and connecting.
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          Jul 3 2011: @ Gene. I work at a hybrid model school that attempts to leverage technology (including Education 2020 and knanacademy and mathsnacks and many more online resources....) with face-to-face instruction; plus classes in environmental ed, outdoor experiential learning, and emotional intelligence training. The balance can happen and when it does, it is beautiful to see!
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        Jul 2 2011: Well Gene , thats a usual complain from average teachers (not even good teachers) I guess.

        It's a "half full , half empty" glass story.

        Might be lucky to come across a couple of great teachers in my life with whom still I am conneceted with though I finished my Masters level many years back.

        My formula is simple, even if the class size is 100 (only usual in 3rd world country I guess , where I am from), in a year at least teacher have 200 working days, so easily they can allocate 2 days to know a student more closely instead of just going to class with book and start teaching.

        Though great teachers are neither bound to calendar days nor to the curriculum. They are really rare ...
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        Jul 2 2011: I think that dividing the class into groups would be better in that case ( for the students and teacher). The students could then teach and learn from one another and that way it's easier for the teacher to have an overview. By looking at the smaller group dynamics the teacher can then see the individuals strengths/ weaknesses.
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          Jul 2 2011: Hi Anita , yes thats another way of handling big group. Well thats why the saying "when there is a will , there is a way" is there.
          Rare Great Teachers find out many other ways also.
          Thanks for your idea.
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        Jul 2 2011: Gene - time to get hard with the politicians and their ridiculous attempts to run schools according to business models.

        Reducing class sizes is the one thing we could do to immediately deal with this issue - I'd prefer 1:5 ratio but most politicians would scoff and sneer at the cost.

        And (in the case of my country) go and pump $350 million tax dollars into the rugby world cup! It's obvious what's important to our politicians..
        • Jul 3 2011: Scott, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the challenges that face our teachers - especially when one considers the lack of funding in many jurisdictions. However, I was interested to find out that research seems to suggest that class size has little to do with achievement. This to me seems counterintuitive - especially when one begins with the starting point that relationship building is essential for student success. Thoughts?
  • Jul 3 2011: A good teacher teaches students - a great teacher shares ideas, knowledge, wisdom and understanding with all people. A great teacher is someone who not only knows their subject well, but who can share an understanding of that subject with someone else and instill a curiosity and inspiration for that subject.

    A good teacher has an invested interest in their subject - a great teacher has an invested interest in their student and their students growth. It takes an incredible ability to be able to understand that everyone is an individual and thus each have unique requirements - especially when it comes to learning. And it takes an even greater ability to be able to know people to such an extent that you are able to communicate to them in a way that they will fully understand and challenge them in a way that encourages growth, yet is just enough so that they'll still be able to achieve it.

    People don't become great teachers - they are born great teachers...
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      Jul 4 2011: @ Malcolm - I both agree and disagree. A teacher has to have some natural aptitude, sure. I know a lot of people in other professions that I call "kid whisperers" - they "get" my students and how to interact with them in an effective, exciting way. However, on the flip side I have known a lot of natural teachers that failed in the classroom because they couldn't organize themselves or their ideas in a meaningful way for students.
      • Jul 4 2011: Perhaps I didn't explain clearly enough - there are definitely many facets to being a great teacher, including being organized, knowledgeable in your subject, etc - but in my opinion out of all of them one of the most critical would be, as you put it, the ability to be a "kid whisperer". That natural affinity to connect with people and explain things in a way that that specific person can understand definitely gives an edge to teaching. But of course, as you mention, that in itself does not guarantee that they would be able to teach. It is a combination of both talents which can be acquired (speaking in front of a group of people for example) and an inborn ability to connect with people that makes good teachers great.
  • Jul 2 2011: In response to the 'original' question of, "What is the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?", while adhering to the adage that 'brevity is the soul of wit', I will answer::

    One should either step up their game, or be doing something else for a living ... :) :) :)

    Eintein once said, "Every child is born a genius." I would agree with this statement, however, adults, parents, teachers, family members and peers are the root cause of stealing 'genius' from 99% of people who grow up to become non-geniuses ... remember, Einstein said every child is born gifted, he did not state that all humans develop that way or achieve thier full potential --- in fact, many of his quotes about humanity would certainly indicate that he did not hold all adults and their activities in very high esteem.

    In summing up my thoughts ... geniuses are being born on this planet every minute, but society is set up to crush these people's genius and spirit, and it is the duty of GREAT teachers to save as many as we can.

    Lux et Veritas!
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      Jul 2 2011: What incentive would you give these teachers to 'step up'?

      Almost every teacher I have worked with has been on less than enviable salaries and usually end up providing resources for their classroom out of their own pocket.

      Forget overtime pay or bonuses - it doesn't happen.

      Given the stresses that go with the job - dealing with anger/behaviour issues, complaining (and often misguided) parents, the demands of delivering individualised programmes to 30+ kids and the planning and prep that this requires, assessment practice that effectively reduce teaching time (but insisted upon by govt), self reflection and professional development (another govt requirement), registration and professional standards requirements, handling budgets and overseeing areas beyond the classroom (sports, arts, cultural), is it a any wonder that kids 'slip through cracks'?

      If the bureaucrats and policy makers stopped their love affair with (meaningless) stats and numbers and measurement practice, then teachers could get on with their reason for being - teaching kids.
      • Jul 3 2011: Hey Scott,

        There is not a single 'rewarding' career which does not have challenges.

        In response, to your question: SUCCESS is its own reward.

        If money is high on your value scale, then you should not be a teacher ... the poor pay is a well known fact ... nobody is trying to hide the low pay from the public ... people don't get into teaching FOR the pay, they become teachers in SPITE of the pay ... :) :) :)

        If teachers were rewarded like CEO's and entrepreneurs, North America would indeed have higher calibre people teaching because the best and brightest often go for the bigger money. Our society, in general, has become over taken by media and people believe that monetary wealth and material possessions are more important than our felllow human beings, their health, their education, etc.

        English was always my worst subject and I live in an area of Canada where the English language is butchered for sport ... what I meant to convey was that GREAT teachers should keep doing what they are doing, and GOOD teachers should step up thier game by becoming more intereted in doing everything they can to become a GREAT teacher or do something they are more suited to do.

        Here is a list of some of my all time favorite teachers: Pythagoras, Socrates, Diogenes, Confucius, Jesus and Tesla. These are the GREATEST of the great ... they all taught what they knew, what they discovered and were focused on TRUTH ... they all loved to teach ... they all shunned money and saw the silver linings in living a life in relative financial poverty.

        Teaching was never about money, it shouldn't be today and it certainly won't be in the future.

        I taught math, physics and calculus in high school for 5 years before leaving to pursue business interests. I left because of many of the reasons you outlined, however, I did manage to make a difference for the students I did teach and they taught me a great deal as well.

        I hope you find my words at least somewhat useful.

        Lux et Veritas!
        • Jul 3 2011: I found it interesting that you chose the term "step up" as it was the term that a previous staff that I worked with suggested in response to what our school goals should be. It is always most powerful when a group of people come up with a solution. Despite the fact that it lacked formal measurement (something that we usually have to comply with), it allowed each member to look at what they were doing - in all facets of their school life - and seek ways to improve. It may not have created statistics to show our improvements, but it was felt in the improved relationships within the building. Students recognized it without being told. Teachers, like every other group of professionals have weakness, goodness, and greatness, but I see many of the "best and brightest" among them - and I am happy that they have made the choice to forego other more lucrative job opportunities for a vocation where they can display there passion on a daily basis. My appreciation for great teachers has heightened as my own children now enter the system. It is a massive leap of faith for all parents to drop off their children at school each morning - but for me it has been made easier by the way they are welcomed each day. Glenn, I am sorry the profession lost you, but I am glad to hear that you gave and received many valuable lessons. Teachers should be paid fairly - and in some places they are. Dan Pink talks about taking money off the table so it isn't a motivational issue. I agree with you that teaching isn't about the money - but I would say that its critical importance suggests that we take the issue of money off the table. What would have kept you in the profession? What did it lack or how did it frustrate you? Perhaps something was a stronger calling?
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          Jul 3 2011: Hey Glenn - I am in full agreement with the money thing.

          They have been mooting performance pay for teachers in NZ as a way to 'reward' the best teachers. This of course would be unhelpful as teachers would start to become precious about sharing resources and knowledge. Not a good environment for education all round.

          I don't believe that higher salaries are the solution in and of itself but attracting more people to the job, alongside more money being spent on spaces and resources will enable the reduction in class sizes.

          I firmly believe that doing this would solve a lot of the issues around teacher-student relationships.

          The fact that teaching is a job is part of the problem - teachers are not free to focus solely on their students as their time is largely taken up with organisation and paperwork, insisted upon by tradition, bureaucrats and business models.

          Some deep changes are required but I believe we are seeing the beginning.

          The kids are alright!
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          Jul 3 2011: Hey Gene - we used to use "Step Up" as a motto for our middle school kids to encourage them to think independently and manage themselves well!

          I like the way you guys implemented that approach with little regard for evidence and paper-trails. I don't think things always need to be broken down into formal action plans and reflection, especially when that can be achieved through informal discussions and so on.

          In fact, when people 'buy in' (to use a terrible example of jargon), I think that reflection and professional sharing just happens as a result of the enthusiasm that your sort of approach can generate.

          I am a HUGE fan of the type of approach you have described as it brings the focus onto teachers and students instead of the systems of planning, assessment and so on.

          Keep it up!
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          Jul 4 2011: The idea that success is its own reward is a nice one; however, sometimes I feel like holding someone financially hostage because they love what they do is one of the dumbest ideas I have ever heard come out of smart peoples' mouths. I imagine being a neurosurgeon is also highly rewarding. I truly consider teaching to be equally as important a calling.

          Making a compromise between my students and my family in terms of time is hard enough. Doing it in terms of money is even worse.
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        Jul 3 2011: I agree with glen. For one it's not like teachers are having problems paying their bills- they just can't spend as much as they'd like to in the USA. In Germany teachers get paid VERY well and are civil servants meaning they can't get fired and have good pensions- And still they complain about not receiving payment increase (for a few years) despite the slight inflation.

        From my experience all the worst teachers I have had were in Germany. In Germany almost no teacher spends any extra money on his/her student and if they do they tell the student and expect everyone to say thank you.

        One time I mentioned the issue about teachers in Germany ( international schools and bilingual schools are different) and all the teachers pretty much ganged up on me an told me that I expect too much of them. I could go on and on with my stories in Germany!
        • Jul 3 2011: Anita, I am unfamiliar with the German education experience - though you certainly provide an unfortunate picture of what it was like for you. I have heard many say that a great teacher is invaluable and should be paid handsomely, but I have also heard that a poor teacher is paid too much at whatever the rate. I know that merit pay and incentives have been tried in the U.S. with little to no success. What are your thoughts as how to encourage the great ones to stay and the good ones to become great? As to teachers spending their own money on their students; a recent study in our province showed that on average, teachers spent around $1000 per year on their students. While I think that shows a rather significant level of commitment on behalf of the teachers, I wonder if it also suggests that the system is underfunded to the point that teachers are being "asked" to make up the difference. How much money does an accountant (or other profession) spend on her clients (other than advertising to gain clients)? Thanks for your input.
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        Jul 4 2011: @ Scott, couldn't agree more. In addition to classroom responsibilities, I do the data reporting to the state for our school, which is directly tied to our funding. We have 2-3 two-day meetings per year and at none of these data conferences have I ever heard how this information-gathering is making a difference in our classrooms.
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          Jul 6 2011: I could never bring myself to care much about the formal reporting and the admin side of teaching. I think that's best left to the politicians and accountants - unfortunately (and I don't think the general public realises this) teachers are expected to do a whole lot more than 'teach' and a lot of that does nothing for the individual learners.

          As a colleague of mine used to say: You don't fatten a pig by weighing it.
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        Jul 6 2011: Hey Scott,
        Unfortunately the psychological literature is not very supportive of 'incentives'. Much of the literature reports that 'rewarding' behaviours that are most desired and most integral to positive outcomes often demoralizes the person and causes eventual extinguishing of that behaviour. When people choose to volunteer for example turning it into a paid position often makes it less satisfying rather than more satisfying.
        I think it might be the same for teachers. Those who naturally love to teach have been crowded out by those who are there for the summers off and the pay cheque exclusively.
        Not sure how to circumvent this phenomenon and I am interested in your thoughts about what I have written above.

        **I just reread your posts above and have to add that a basic level of earnings where one does not need to supply the student resources is certainly a requirement. I am not supporting underpaying teachers- that only short changes the kids.
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          Jul 6 2011: Hey Deb,

          yeah, it's a tricky one. I still think the real problems in schools are coming from the bureaucratic end, rather than the teachers themselves.

          I think the idea of teaching for altruistic reasons is the ideal (but I also think the same for lawyers and doctors) and that as well as teachers doing it for the love of it, all business and service providers to schools should be doing the same thing.

          It's the best 'investment' any community can make.
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    Jul 2 2011: As a mother of 5 grown children, I found that each of my children had one exceptional teacher. An exceptional teacher is one who really 'sees' the children, raises above the constraints of the system, still embodies a love of and excitement for learning and has their own ego in check. These people are gifts not only to the children but to the world. They are rare.
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    Jul 1 2011: I agree that good teachers know how to teach the facts and that great teachers don't just teach what's part of the cirriculum. However, after attending 11 different schools in Germany and the U.S.A. I think that it is more than that.

    I think what seperates the two is that great teachers follow a moral code, enjoy their jobs (consider it fulfilling) and put a lot of thought into their classes and students. It's almost as though their goal is to inspire students by being creative with their teaching methods. Great teachers are also able to admit their weaknesses, apologize (a good role model) and "think outside of the box".

    "What could motivate a good teacher to aspire for the same greatness?" - Before a good teacher can aspire to be a great one, he or she has to 1) be happy 2) realize that he/she is making a difference 3)has to be passionate about the job.

    But maybe the good teacher just doesn't know how to teach creatively. Hmmm...have you asked the good teachers if they aspire to be a great one? If they don't then why not? I think you should ask them first....
  • Jul 6 2011: I think the best teachers I've had were not merely knowledgable, but conveyed a real sense of interest and excitement in their subject matter, which was contagious. Acquiring a grade was secondary, at best, to acquiring knowledge.
    It's been four decades since I sat in a classroom, but I'm still using these great teachers as a jumping off point, and consider myself fortunate to have been encouraged to engage in a lifetime of learning.
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    Jul 6 2011: a good teacher gets you good grades. a great teacher motivates and inspires you to reach heights you have never thought you could reach.
    • Jul 6 2011: Jeremy, I hope that the good grades are merely the result of learning, not the reward. Our students have been conditioned to believe that achieving the 'A' is the goal, and don't recognize the grade is merely the product of the learning. I believe what that often results in has been described as "eductional bulimia". What do you think motivates a student to reach the heights you describe?
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        Jul 7 2011: Dear Gene,
        Malaysia, very bluntly, has a horrible education system. The focus of every student from kindergarten all the way to college is on the A's. In fact, it's not just about getting an A, it's about getting straight A's in all public examinations. Our education system is flawed in such a way that it tests a student's memory rather than his/her understanding on the subject, which is something i totally despise. Therefore, in school there are mainly 2 kinds of teachers; a normal teacher and a good teacher.

        A normal teacher blurts out hours on end of classroom material, not necessarily with the students understanding and at the end of the day sends them home to complete their homework. A good teacher on the other hand makes sure they understand the study materials at school and pushes them harder to excel. However, the commonality in both teachers is that they are goal-ed towards getting the students to score the elusive "A". I must honestly say, I got bored of school towards the end and I really gave up on learning altogether. In fact, it was stressful especially when students and parents started comparing results.

        It wasn't until university that I met my dean, a great teacher who really changed the meaning of learning and inspired me to perform beyond my boundaries. I realized then that learning wasn't necessarily about getting an A. It's the entire process and what we have gained along the way. Life in fact isn't just about academics but rather a person as a whole. Soft skills (leadership, judgement, teamwork etc) are crucial.

        During my 1st year at Uni, with the motivation, guidance and his faith in my potential and abilities, I managed to form a society to provide a learning platform for student engineers, complete a few research projects and even co-authored my very own research paper and presented it at a conference. It was by far more than anything I had accomplished in my entire life, all in just under a year and I must say,
  • Jul 6 2011: The real measure of a great teacher, is not just what they say or how they teach. The best measure is what their students become. Do they need to be eye-opening, challenging, demanding, and passionate, yes...but the mark of a great teacher is that they produce great people.
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    Jul 5 2011: a great teacher is a few steps away from the students not just showing them the path but making them able to find their own
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      Jul 5 2011: Ciao Arcangela qui non si vede molto una educatrice italiana. Grazie per la vostra parola. Anche possiamo parlare degli alievi. Il maestro non e tutto senza i alievi.

      Luigi Vampa / Roma
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        Jul 6 2011: students are obviously very important and I think a good teacher must be fully aware of their potentials
  • Jul 4 2011: Taylor Mali shares some additional insight into the makings of a great teacher:

    On a more serious note:

    Dan Pink shares the answer, indirectly, in his talk. A great teacher empowers students to build their capacity through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Sir Ken Robinson talks of passion, talents, and doing things that resonates with the person’s spirit which fit into the motivational model of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Many skills are required to do this and others before me have commented on these skills.

    Compassion is one of the essential skills of a great teacher. Bob Sornson puts it well: “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care!” I anticipate that some will read this and think, compassion isn’t a skill its something you either have of you don’t. Fortunately, compassion is a skill that can be developed. No one is born being compassionate. Those of us that are compassionate have learned the skill through guidance and experience. Those of us that are less compassionate (or not compassionate at all) just haven’t developed the needed skills.

    If these are the characteristics of a great teacher, anything less would be a good teacher. A teacher may be great in certain areas of teaching, but only good in other areas, so the focus of evaluating teacher performance should not be on teachers, but on teaching. Great teachers also work to improve the skills and knowledge of the profession through collaboration with others. Collaboration is of great need and in short supply.

    As an aspiring educational leader, I see what is good for the learning done by children, is also good for the learning done by adults. Educational leaders motivate good teachers to “aspire for the same greatness,” by developing a school culture of autonomy, mastery, and purpose specifically through collaboration and compassion.
  • Jul 4 2011: I'll respond by quorting Irish Poet W.B Yeats " Education is meant to ignite fires, not fill empty pails"
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    Jul 4 2011: A good teacher is responsible for students' learning and a great teacher help them to be respnsible for their own learning;)
  • Jul 3 2011: The difference for me has been (as cliche as it sounds) a personal relationship.
    also teachers who use analogy well. breaking down concepts into smaller pieces, and showing how one concept (e.g. stuff orbits stuff) is applicable in many ways (atoms to planets)
  • Jul 3 2011: A good teacher judges or tests based on the level in which he/she teaches. A teacher which leaves everything up to the student hasn't really earned to right to test at some lofty level or throw curve balls during final examinations. A teacher which abandons a rubric in place of subjective feeling or a time management exercise (i.e. is lazy) or takes samples of a student's work and makes an 'educated guess' as to the outcome of final exams (because they are too lazy to mark them on their merits) is certainly not good.

    Hording final exams for 'educative posterity' robs the student of their right to learn, just because they are too lazy to make a new test the following year. Nor should they PANDER TO KEENERS and use them as a barometer of the entire class. That is a fallacy in style and is classicist in the worst sort of way.

    Great teachers test at the level in which they teach. They prepare the student for what is expected of them, exactly. You shouldn't have to re-invent the wheel come final exam time. A great teacher should also take up questions in class step by step and not just skim through pages of pre-determined answers on an overhead without thoroughly providing due diligence to take the class on the journey towards the answer.

    A great teacher does not dismiss questions because they interrupt a pre-formed script or schedule. A teacher who does not include time for questions in their class really isn't interested in the child's education. A student's job is to ask questions. To dismiss a question is to kill the essence of learning. Memorizing is not all there is to learning. Proper interpretation and rationalization is equally important.

    Great Teachers: signal level of difficulty upfront & test fairly, give proper and clear expectations for students, are objective, do not pander to the whim of keeners or use them as a barometer of everyone in the class, and should not be dismissive of debate or questions in class.
    • Jul 3 2011: Brian,
      It is hard to disagree with your examples. You're right; teachers should not teach to one level and then test at another. That seems to be an exercise in futility. However, I do believe that teachers should use a "body of evidence" to arrive at a grade - not merely a test score. It shouldn't be randomly selected either, as one would hope that the student would choose to compile his/her best work for assessment. While being fair and equal are not always one and the same, your examples of inequity are neither fair nor equal. Questions suggest some level of engagement with the material - and should not be dismissed. It sounds like you have had some bad experiences - hopefully you have also had a balance on the "great" side. Thanks for your response.
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        Jul 3 2011: Hi, guys! I would add to your above comments that I believe a teacher should meet and test his/her students WHEREVER THEY ARE. if I have a third grader who can only read "Frog and Toad" there is no point in instructing them using Roald Dahl, for example, just because that is approved third grade reading. You have to find the level at which each student is a) independent and b) instructional. Then go to where they are and work from there!

        And then, absolutely, you test them on the skills taught and practiced. End of story. I would add here that the word "testing" in my mind really should be "assessment" and encompasses everything from products generated by the student to daily teacher observation, short cycle assessments, qualitative as well as quantitative inventories, and self-reflection from both teacher and student.

        Curve balls and problem-solving have their place - testing, in my opinion, isn't it.
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    Jul 2 2011: A great teacher is unforgettable.
  • Jul 2 2011: A great teacher will recognize and embrace students for the talents that they do have, not rebuke them for the ones they don't have or have not yet developed.
  • Jul 2 2011: If the teacher makes you understand the subject, he/she is a good teacher.

    If the teacher changes your life with the subject, he/she is a GREAT TEACHER.
  • Jul 2 2011: A good teacher help students achieve their study objectives
    A great teacher help students achieve beyond their original study objectives, enjoy the process, grow themselves (knowledgeably and spiritually), and can effectively self-study.
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    Jul 2 2011: One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is, "When you learn, teach. When you get, give." So perhaps great teachers are the ones throughout our lives that are great students.
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    Jul 2 2011: Great teachersknow how to make a lasting impression on the student. They make learning a personal experience.

    There is a story about a teacher in an British boarding school who taught English literature. All his students never missed a class because of his unpredictable teaching style.
    One day the students filed into class and the teacher walked over to one of them, lifted him up by his jacket labels, pulled him close, and said, "One day there will be a person who will despise you - want to do you harm - just because of the look of your face".

    He released the student from his grasp and let him sink back down in his seat. The entire class was frozen by the teacher's ominous gesture to the student. The teacher returned to the front of the class and said, "Now we can study Hamlet".

    By taking the essence of the timeless tale of "Hamlet" and showing the students that what happened to Hamlet will indeed happen to them one day, he made the story more than just another Shakespearean lesson in brilliant writing; he made it something to which they could personally relate. That's great teaching
    • Jul 2 2011: Making learning personal for the student is indeed an important aspect of teaching. What role do you think "choice" should play in teaching and learning. Should a teacher "open the door", as Jaime wrote, and then allow students the freedom to choose to follow their passion - or should there be more direction from the teacher around specific outcomes that must be attained by all? Skill development or competency building versus adherence to the acquisition of curricular outcomes - not that they necessarily have to be in opposition. Thanks for your thoughts.
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        Jul 2 2011: Gene, we can open the door or the teacher directs, to me it won't matter as long as we educate them also with good values. In a WEF Facebook survey, 2/3 said they need values education and lacking it is what causing our problems today.

        Do they value themselves based on their intrinsic precious nature or only on their achievements. How do they value happiness? Is it based only on their external identities or on the deep happiness that real love gives? http://Bit.Ly/KeyPower
  • Jul 2 2011: What draws the line between a good teacher and a great one, is that a great teacher cares about the students, and push them to succeed by connecting and sharing.
    • Jul 2 2011: In my mind, perhaps the singlemost important aspect of great teaching is the ability to form strong relationships with students which may in turn create an environment of openness - where sharing and debating ideas results in even greater curiousity. When a student returns to a discussion having done "homework" that was unassigned - but simply a continuation from what she/he was exploring in class - some level of success was achieved.
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    Jul 2 2011: The good teacher open the window to see trough. The great teache open the door and invite you to leave the classrom and go for yourself. The best teacher is the one who work to be invisible and dissapear.
  • Jul 11 2011: I think that truly caring about your charges, and your subject, is the most important thing a teacher can do. When I have a teacher who is truly passionate about her subject, I become that much more involved. When I have a teacher who is obviously only teaching since she has been forced to, the level of quality drops off significantly.
  • Jul 7 2011: Hi, a good teacher is the one who gives you knowledge regarding a particular field, teach you the tricks of the trade he has mastered. (His will help you a lot in that field, be it academics or arts, martial arts etc. But a great teacher is the onw who, apart from imparting the above knowledge, pushes youforward,teaches you to be independent, level headed, humble, strategic, analytic, calculative,imbibe values and ethics etc. To cut a long story short, a great teacher goes out of the way to impart things other than mere education that enable a person to not only achieve the ultimate success in life but also to become a better human being in life. When you remember a good teacher you think, " he taught me what I know today" whereas, when you remember a great teacher, you think, " He made me What I am today". I had a teacher like this when I was in ix and x grade and still idolize him and now, 6 years later, fresh out of college, I have started as a teacher myself...