Archived Story

What makes an extraordinary teacher?

Published 10:33am Saturday, October 6, 2012

by Howie Soucek

The community encompassed by the City of Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties has long been blessed with a high portion of classroom teachers truly extraordinary.

What makes an extraordinary teacher?

The traditional credentials of a college degree, the desire to be a teacher, appropriate training, content area knowledge and even years of experience are only the starting point in the making of great teachers — and some teachers are great even without much experience.

Indeed, the traditional credentials, while essential, are grossly insufficient to make for even a mediocre teacher.

Surprised?

Ask yourself this: Do you remember the one or two teachers who made a very positive difference in your life? The teacher you learned the most from (not just about the subject, but about life) and whom you most respected and loved?

Of course you do, and it is not likely that your regard for the exceptional teacher is based on traditional credentials.

What sets the exceptional teacher apart from others are certain personal attributes that determine the nature of the teacher-student relationship. These attributes are intrinsic for the exceptional teacher, who is able effortlessly to model them for youths, while expecting them to follow suit.

Such attributes that come to mind include an insistence on high standards of effort, achievement, self-discipline and purposeful, diligent work; an earnest concern for the preparedness of youths for a successful future; respect for self and others; a passionate desire for youths to enjoy life and learning; a strong sense of fairness; and perhaps the most powerful attribute of all — a warm love for each youth as well as for the teaching-learning process.

Youths in school cannot be fooled — they know which teachers truly care about them and which do not, and there is no college degree and no performance evaluation system that can instill or guide the personal attributes that garner love, respect and the desire to learn.

Great teachers know how to motivate youths, and in the words of one extraordinary teacher, Linda Soucek, “You get kids to believe in themselves, and then watch them take off! …you help them want to perform.”

How many of you think this is the stuff of statistics and standardized tests? How many of you actually believe that an administrator can evaluate this as “measurable” on a performance evaluation?

While exceptional teachers love to teach, they also love to learn, allowing for a process of continuous improvement. Indeed, they are professionals in the true sense and masters of their trade; intelligent administrators do everything they can to remove clerical and procedural burdens from such teachers and leave them free to perform their wondrous work unencumbered.

Administrators and all the rest of us must not only respect exceptional teachers. We must encourage and support them because there are few other jobs as exhausting, stressful and frustrating as that of an extraordinary teacher — and no job as important for the future well-being and success of our society.

HOWIE SOUCEK of Franklin is a human resources professional and former schoolteacher. His email address is hownester@charter.net.

  • happycamper

    Howie,

    I fully agree with about 99.9% of your letter! I think that the type of teacher you describe as excellent is one of the three key ingredients needed to give a student an excellent education. (The other two are motivated students who understand the importance of learning, who have a love of learning, and who are willing to work hard to achieve their goals. Also, we need involved parents who are supportive of both their children and the teachers!)

    Where I disagree with you is in your belief that excellent teachers cannot be evaluated. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly HOW they should be evaluated, but I fully believe that they can be. What is the difference between a teacher and a great manager? Both have to show caring. Both have to “teach”. Both can be objectively evaluated to determine the job that they’re doing. Perhaps the standardized tests only are a small part of the overall evaluation. I’m not certain. I DO know, however, that we simply MUST move away from using “tenure” or … how many years one has survived the system … as a measure of whether teachers should get raises, how much, or even whether they should stay in the system.. I also think that the idea of a “360 degree” evaluation … with the right criteria and weighting of them … is a great notion. Teachers could be evaluated by administrators, peers, and yes, even students!

    We must stop throwing this can down the road and put our collective heads together to come up with a meaningful, objective and fair (for all parties!) system to use in the evaluation of teachers.

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