The good teacher

appleThe Irish Times on April 7 this year published part of an edited paper by Associate Professor Dympna Devine on education research conducted for the Teaching Council on what traits make a “good teacher”. You can access the article here

Reading this article was coincidental as I had just returned to my desk from an Equity workshop on narrative research conducted by Associate Professor Susanne Gannon from the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney. Susanne knows a lot about this kind of research and many other traditions in education research – I was buzzing with excitement as narrative research really appeals to the storywriter in me … or maybe it’s being a former English teacher too.

I had raw data that I wanted to analyse in the workshop – it is from a group of module 1 postgraduate pre-service teachers (n=40) on what they think constitutes ‘being a good teacher’.

In the workshop there was mention of the good teacher, the hero teacher or the heroic teacher … the bad teacher and how do we as teachers of teachers position ourselves within that frame. We touched on the idea of memory stories in teaching … was I a good teacher? … am I a good teacher?

Susanne shared a quote about memory stories: “as patterns from the fabric of life” (Haug, 1978, p.52). She reacquainted me with Frigga Haug. Now, she is a person I am really curious about again and her 1987 book is one I am going to buy right away – she has done research on the collective work of memory – I want to read about the hair project … she says: “you can tell a lot about women from the way they attend or don’t attend to their hair” (p.72).

dublinI digress – back to the Irish Times article, the University College Dublin research confirms high levels of satisfaction and trust among the Irish public in teachers; 80% agree that teachers play an important role in Irish society while 70% view it as a difficult job. Questions are raised in the study about “good” teaching and “good teachers”. But what do teachers think is good? The School of Education at UCD who conducted the in-depth research gathered views and practices of teachers in a sample of primary and secondary schools. The research sought to find out what made a “good teacher” and why the teachers taught the way they did.

The study found above all the hallmark of a “good teacher” was passion for teaching and learning (those teachers who had taught for more than 20 years really valued this). Then, it was about having a strong moral and social orientation. Also, one had to be a formative role model and this view was common amongst the primary-school teachers studied. Next, “good teachers” question what they do and why they do it: they are critically self-reflective. And, careful planning and managing of learning was considered important, including being consistent and skilled in multitasking. Finally, the teachers in the Irish study emphasised the importance of loving children and young people: it was about being joyful in the role and connecting with students respectfully (this was noted especially by secondary teachers).

wordleFor these teachers, teaching is a valued career and one that, above all, requires passion and commitment to the role. There was an emphasis on the importance of flexibility and adaptability to the often “organised chaos” of everyday life in schools.

In reflecting on their teaching, some of the teachers found it difficult to articulate how or why they taught in a particular way. Their practice was crafted from experience and knowing their students, rather than through systematic reflection and evaluation. The role of school principals, the research found was important in terms of how it facilitated and encouraged, shared discussion of planning for teaching and learning.

Importantly, the study found “good teaching” couldn’t be separated from the wider, societal purposes of education. Furthermore, Professor Devine states in the article: “In any debate on good teaching and good teachers, we need to focus on what empowers children to be the best they can be, but also how teachers and schools can be supported to make this happen”.

the-squeeze-blog-robin-williams-1Much of what was found in Ireland recently would resonate with primary and secondary teachers ideas about “the good teacher” in Australia – a number of universal themes you might say. As I take a first look at the raw data I collected the notion of the hero teacher is common among pre-service teachers in my small sample. This idea is encapsulated in the values and attributes they have about “the good teacher”. There is so much joy in their responses. It makes excellent reading. Their collective memories of “support, passion and inspiration” about their “good teachers” – and very common is how such teachers “fostered their love of learning”.

From my reading of this small sample so far – in spite of what some politicians and various sections of the media might lead the Australian public to believe – there are plenty of “good teachers” and what is more, they are currently being prepared to take their place in our schools.

In the meantime what is your memory of a “good teacher”?  Do the recent findings in this Irish study resonate with you?