What makes a good teacher?

All those who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.
384 – 322 B.C.

If you had the ability to choose, would you rather send your child to a school where all the teachers were certified or one where they all had master’s degrees? In America, most states require teachers to be certified, which is a costly process. Getting a master’s degree can be even more expensive. The question, of course, is which is better. So take a moment to think about it.

Quoting from a study done by Robert Gordon, Thomas Kane and Douglas Staiger, “Public education ultimately succeeds or fails based on the talent and skill of teachers. Everything else —  educational standards, testing, school buildings and district leadership — is background, intended to support the crucial interactions between teachers and students.”

So between certification and master’s degrees, which is more important? The answer is neither. It turns out that there is no direct connection between teacher certification or most master’s degrees and the students’ achievements. (There is a slight improvement for teachers with master’s degrees in science and math, but those individuals make up only 4% of the total number of teachers holding master’s degrees.)

Requiring teacher certification adds significantly to the cost to enter the profession. And all states add a pay premium for teachers with master’s degrees. But according to this study, both forms of preparation failed to improve the quality of the educational process. In other words, that time and money was wasted.

What does make the most difference?

In the article “Most Likely to Succeed,” Malcolm Gladwell says that the key factors are liveliness of interaction between teacher and students; flexibility in how students are engaged; a regard for the students’ perspective; the ability to personalize material for individual students; and the amount of high-quality feedback provided to students. In short, social and emotional intelligence —  the ability to relate to the students and connect with them — is much more important than academic or book knowledge.

How does this apply to life? There’s a parallel. More and more, success is determined not by what we know but on how we’re able to interact with others. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman said that a person’s IQ accounted for about twenty percent of their success. The other eighty percent was attributable to social and emotional intelligence.

The lesson is very clear. We must shift our focus from learning facts and figures and start paying more attention to the softer issues. If you want to have a better life, start working to improve your social and emotional skills — and teach your children to do the same.

No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.
Emma Goldman
1869 – 1940

Copyright © 2016 John Chancellor


What makes a good teacher? — 3 Comments

  1. In other words, Tiger Moms have it wrong. They should encourage greater socialization among peers for their children rather than studying all weekend in their rooms and memorizing.