Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What are the Characteristics of a Good Teacher--Contnued

I have had a good time thinking about all the good teachers I have observed, talked to, was told about, or who taught some of my student teachers. I do get more then a bit peeved when someone tells me the first thing we need to do is get rid of the bad teachers. I wish someone would tell me the characteristics of a bad teacher....however, I want to focus once again on the positive aspects of what good teachers do. No, I haven't done a survey and I'm relying on my memory of many observed classroom teachers. My bias is that I know that I observed more elementary and middle school teachers then I did high or secondary school folk. So we start with somewhat of a bias. But quite frankly, I really do not see much difference between a kindergarten teacher and a university professor teaching a graduate class.

In my recent blog I suggested that good teachers have the following characteristics. Let's review. (I do sound like an old college instructor, don't I?)
  • Good teachers have to teach. Many could do something else but good teachers will teach regardless of the circumstances. "Can't get a job? I'll start my own school."
  • Drive. Good teachers don't give up on their students. They are pushy....to the last day of school.
  • The good teacher wants to continually improve their skills. They are always trying a new lesson plan or a method to enlighten their students about something.
  • The good teachers I have observed have Control. Call it management or leadership--whatever, the top teachers waste little time going from one subject to another or from one problem to another. Discussions are logical and thought producing. They are in control.
  • These teachers have broad goals. In their minds they know what they want the end result to be and push the students continually in that direction.
  • The good teachers treat student with respect. No talking down and they know how to listen to the students.
I'd like to add a couple of more characteristics of good teachers. By and large they use the KISS system of teaching, i.e., Keep It Simple Stupid. Lesson plans are relatively simple--"this is what I want you to learn today." Many teachers will write the days "objectives" on the blackboard for the class to see when they first come into the classroom. As in a high school band class, those objectives may well include 1) warm up scales (in a certain key), 2) tune up by sections and tune up by the entire band, 3) musical selections to be practiced by the band and 4) works to be polished.

I'm sure you've heard the medical schools method for teaching--Watch one, Do one, Teach one. It is simplistic but I've heard medical doctors say it works. What I did in my classroom (regardless of grade level) is to 1) Tell You What I'm Going to Teach You, 2) Now I Am Teaching You, 3) This Is What I Taught You. The hard part is in the second section where I have to show the students what to do--but the first and third part are essential to the lesson. I note that Amanda Ripley (see previous blog for web site address) talks about Mr. Taylor's system that I think is better then mine. She writes that he....1)I do, 2) We do, and 3) You do.... in the learning lesson. I like that. KISS all the way.

An aside for the moment. When I first started teaching fifth grade I spent much time developing lesson plans for the subjects that I was supposed to teach. Gleaned from district and state requirements, I wrote my lesson plans on regular sized paper folder lengthwise in half, with the objective at the top and to the left of the page, what I was going to do and on the right of the page what my students were suppose to do. On the back of the sheet of paper, I would put down page numbers, or questions that I wanted to ask. You with me so far? Then I put these lesson plans on a clip board in order of the subjects that I would teach that day. The clip board was important to me--it told me what I should be doing and at what time. Okay!

It did not take most of my students long to come into the classroom, hang up their coats and put the lunches away and then they would swipe my clip board. They would read it over to see what we were doing that day. At first I was incensed. "Put my clip board down--thats mine." Of course fifth graders paid little attention and while I was still getting ready for the first bell they would read my clip board. But what I noticed after a week or two was that they were getting ready to do that work! Finding the place in the book--maybe marking it with a book mark or reading ahead as to what we would be discussing. Finally I just put the clip board on my desk for them. Well, actually, I went one stage better. Most elementary school classrooms have student helpers. The kids love these jobs such as blackboard eraser (2 kids), lunch room helpers (4 kids), Pet feeders (4, when we had rats in cages), row monitors (4) and finally, Clip board monitor (1) to hold my clip board and tell me when we were going past time. Sometimes the clip board monitor would say, "Mr. Blackwell, you forgot to ask....." And if the clip board monitor was busy or absent that day, someone always took up the slack. It was cool.

Now there is one more part to this KISS technique I need to address. One of the things that use to frost my cupcakes is when a student teacher would finish up a lesson and then say, "Are there any questions." No, no, no, no, NO! Good teachers always have the questions....not the students. "Is everyone ready for lunch? Okay, who can tell me what happened on July 1st, 1776?" OR.... "John, how do you solve for this equation? Good teachers are always checking on their kids to see if they understand. They don't wait for a child to ask the question--they want to know first what the student knows or doesn't know.

Oops, my present day clip board holder says it is time to go on to something else. What we've done today is talk about the simplification of lesson plans....to fit broad goals. On our next blog we going to discuss "Good Teachers and STUFF. Are you with me?

I suspect there are several of my university college professors smiling and saying, Well, I'll be damned. He got it. Thanks to all of you who helped me be a teacher. And thanks to all the good teachers out in the classrooms. Hang in there.

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