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“If There Were A Magic Formula For ‘Good Teaching’, We’d Be Gulping Pints Of The Stuff – Right…?”

  • “If There Were A Magic Formula For ‘Good Teaching’, We’d Be Gulping Pints Of The Stuff – Right…?”

Tom Starkey grapples with the notion of what it truly means to be a ‘good’ teacher…

Sometimes people ask me what I think it takes to be a good teacher. Usually I just point to my face and say ‘This’, with a look so smug even I want to do me some serious injury.

It’s only to hide the fact that when it comes down to it, I haven’t got the first clue as to what it takes to be a good teacher – and there’s no way I’m going to start admitting that to people (well, the people who aren’t reading this, anyway; I really haven’t thought this through at all…), as it might get to the kids. And if it gets to the kids that I’m not omniscient, that’s me done for.   

What does ‘good’ even mean?

Don’t get me wrong; I think I’m completely and utterly ace, but I’m not fully confident that I could spot a good teacher if one came along and smacked me topside of the head with a mini whiteboard. To be perfectly honest, I distrust those who think they can – especially after something as hugely arbitrary as observing an hour’s lesson.

But let’s not delve into the muddy waters of things as patently ludicrous as those types of judgements; otherwise this writer will end up subjecting you to a page’s worth of barely coherent ranting. And let’s not look at what ‘good’ might mean though the warped filter of a sheet with boxes on it that need ticking. Instead, let’s consider it in a purer form.

Everyone has their own idea of what a ‘good teacher’ does and what ‘good teaching’ looks like. For some, it’s about classroom relationships. For others, it’s about maintaining a standard of discipline leading to an environment where learning can take place.

It’s about standing at the front and engaging them with the things that you know. Or it’s about letting the kids lead their own learning. It’s about a good seating plan. How much you do or don’t smile. Authenticity. Performance. Handwriting. Wordprocessing. Assessment. Glitter pens. What on earth? Where is…what? Where? Who?

Confusing, isn’t it? There are so many variables. Some people see ‘good’ in a smile. Some see ‘good’ in a set of results. Some people see ‘good’ in silence and some see ‘good’ in the noisy rush of ideas. Who’s right? Like I said, I haven’t the foggiest. But here’s what I believe:

Blinkered by our own experience

If there were a magic formula for ‘good’ teaching, we’d all gulping down pints of the stuff, right? Perhaps – unless we didn’t like the way it tasted…

Personally, I suspect that whether you think someone is a good teacher or not is mostly down to personal preference, or – in the more scarily extreme cases – ideology. I think we are often blinkered by our own experiences of school, be they positive or negative. I believe there’s no secret to being a good teacher, because ‘good’ mostly depends on where you are teaching and whom you have in front of you.

So when someone asks me what I think it takes to be a good teacher, maybe I should shoot a couple of questions straight back at them: “Where?” “With whom?”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it a fair bit more because I like the sound of it (and big words give people the impression that I know what I’m talking about) – there is no homogeneity in teaching.

There are similarities, obviously, and we can work on being the best we can be in reference to them, but that’s just about all we can do. The landscape of our job is absolutely vast. What gets me through the day might lead you to disaster, and the same might happen if we were to switch it round. 

Perhaps being a good teacher doesn’t mean following a set of ideals at all. Perhaps it means having a willingness to adapt to any given situation; to put biases to one side and consider all the options, instead of steadfastly sticking to something. Maybe a good teacher is an adaptable teacher. Maybe not. Like I keep telling – I’m pretty clueless.

So I’ll just carry on answering the question by pointing to my own gorgeous visage, because I don’t know. And that’s okay. Just don’t tell anyone else.

Thanks for reading. 

Tom Starkey is a teacher in an FE college in the north of England; he blogs at stackofmarking.wordpress.com and tweets as @tstarkey1212

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