The June 11-17, 2016 issue of the Economist had two great articles about how to improve the quality of teachers. The first, How to make a good teacher, opens with this enlightening quotation:

The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers. One American study found that in a single year’s teaching the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do.

The article also challenged one of my beliefs: we have to get rid of bad teachers and encourage good teachers. They make the very good point that if we get rid of bad teachers, those who replace them will come out of the same system that produced bad teachers in the first place. The key is actually to train ALL teachers in effective methods of instruction. Read the article here:

Here in the Middle East, there is a mentality of “blame the teacher” both from the students and the administration. You might think they are justified, given the quotation above.

That’s why I love research. I thank all the people who did the boring work it involves, and I am happy to take the benefit. I especially love research that proves that I was right all along.

I have been saying for ages that new teachers need a mentoring program. They need to observe several, if not all, of the other teachers at their school. They need to have experienced teachers or their superiors teach the new teacher’s class while they watch. New teachers need to make notes on strategies to apply in the classroom. The Economist says this is exactly how you make a good teacher. Read all about it here in their article entitled: Training the teachers

There is so much information in these two articles that I can’t cover it all here. However, I’d like to point out that the research used in the article points out clearly where the responsibility for this training belongs: on the school. Not enough teachers have a chance to observe other teachers or to get pointers from peers and superior. The institutions are letting us down.

How can we be better teachers?

The fact remains that our administrators probably aren’t going to support us to do much ongoing training. As in many industries that want new hires to have experience, they expect some other organization make you a good teacher for them.

My mission in this blog is to impart ideas that you can use in the classroom. I’d say I am aligned with what they called “the craft of the classroom.”

Let’s not worry too much about what they aren’t doing for us. We can take matters into our own hands. We can improve our own teaching, and help others as well.

Suggestions from the Economist

As with so many things, the research has already been done. We just need to apply it.

Commit yourself to trying a new idea every week. Forever. Check back here regularly and I’ll have stuff for you. Meanwhile, the Economist  has some suggestions from Charles Chew, a “principal master teacher” from Singapore:

  • Ask probing questions of all students. (Think “Why” and “How” instead of “What”)
  • Assign short writing tasks the get [students] thinking and allow [you] to check for progress.
  • Plan your classes with a clear sense of the goal and how to reach it.
  • Make your classes teacher-led but interactive.
  • Space out and vary the ways in which [students] practice things.

The next steps

The two articles referenced a lot of background information from studies conducted around the world. I plan to look into some of them, and see what techniques they are using. The article says that “a fair chunk of what teachers (and others) believe about teaching is wrong.”

I hope to find new ways to improve my teaching. I’ll share my findings. Watch this space.

Let’s just finish with this quotation from the article about a study conducted by John Hattie at the University of Melbourne:

What matters is “teacher expertise”.

All of the twenty most powerful ways to improve school-time learning identified by the study depended on what a teacher did in the classroom