What makes a great teacher

What makes a great teacher? Andy Waddell tries to answer the question in “I’ll Never Forget Mr. White” in American Educator.

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  1. Supersub says:

    Prep time.

    • Roger Sweeny says:


      • SuperSub says:

        The sad part is that I am quite serious…as a teacher struggling to adapt to ever-changing standards and teaching assignments, I routinely give my students partially developed lessons that I never have enough time to work on.

    • Is that it? Just prep time? Because if that’s all there is to it then we don’t have to bother with tests or any of that stuff. Just make sure every teacher has six hours of prep time for every hour of class time and all teachers will be above average.

      But it turns out the author doesn’t agree with you. You see, the secret to great teaching is…drum roll please….magic!

      Yes, great teaching isn’t quantifiable. It isn’t measurable. It’s magic!

      Sadly for avid practitioners of sarcasm the author has the temerity to tentatively creep up on a couple of valid points.

      Teachers are isolated.

      There you sit in your own little world, reinventing the wheel and no one finds that even slightly remarkable. If a doctor were expected to develop his own vaccines the FDA would be knocking his door down before lunch. If engineers were expected to develop their own method of producing steel most buildings wouldn’t be above about three stories high. But for a teacher to go by themselves where, oh, lots of teachers have gone before doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

      And if you burrow into the innards of the article we come up with this interesting observation, “It was clear to me that the system needed to change.”

      Better keep those sorts of opinions to yourself boyyo. You don’t want to be accused of teacher-bashing.

      But the effort of forming the conclusion that, maybe, just maybe there are shortcomings to an institution that has so little regard for the profession upon which it’s ostensibly based that practitioners have to learn their craft in isolation and have no access to the accomplishments of their predecessors, is so great he collapses back into heartwarming anecdotes which discomfit no one.

      To bad. There were a couple of bits of grit in that article that with a bit of encouragement might have produced a pearl or two.

  2. I agree with SuperSub. I have 45 minutes a day to develop lesson plans for 5 hours of teaching. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that isn’t enough time.

    Not to mention the constant loss of this time to meetings, probably in the neighborhood of about 15%, leaves me even less time to develop a lesson.

    • Actually, teachers theoretically have 52 weeks a year to develop lessons for roughly 34 weeks.

      I know, I know. That’s outside of “contract time.” Yet, I don’t really see myself as an hourly employee. So, I would never argue that I don’t have time to be prepared for class.

      And, my AP Language classes – for which I have 53 students – write roughly 30 essays during the year, so I am grading quite a bit. I also teach a CE Intro to College Comp class, which is nothing but writing assignments.

      This is my first year on the CE classes – I have semester of lit, too – and nothing is perfect. But I will tweak lessons during breaks and during the summer. And next year it will be better than before.

      • CaliforniaTeacher says:


        I, too, teach English. I also teach history. I also have a small child and a family. Since becoming a parent, I have had to cut back on the number of comments I write on student papers. I assign less writing. This is not an ideal development, but there are some subject matter areas that are more family-friendly than others. English is not one of them.

        • If you grade everything they write, they’re not writing enough. And, if you’re not using holistic grading and rubrics for students to identify their own errors in order to understand, edit, revise, and learn, then you can certainly tweak your approach. My children are six and nine, and I did not cut back on the education I provided to other people’s children simply because of developments in my personal life. Granted, I put in more off-site time than phys ed teachers. But that discrepancy doesn’t guide the way I do my job. Keep one thing in mind about “comments.” Most research shows they have no impact on improving student writing. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use the classroom to improve student writing. It’s really not about the comments – and by the way I write all over my students papers – but more about how we instruct writing. The comments are really more about justifying the grade and working through the grading process for my understanding of its merit.

          • CaliforniaTeacher says:

            I think that while your comments about rubrics and holistic scoring ring true, the whole experience of parenting small children is different for women and men.

            Your statements about comments on papers are a good reminder for me,and of course I do what I can to limit actual grading. But it’s unrealistic to assume that a person’s personal life – especially the birth of a small child – won’t somehow impact their work lives. Gender matters here.

          • If you go straight to bottle feeding from day 1 then gender does not matter as much as you state. I have a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and a 6 year old and I have changed just as many diapers as my wife. I’ve had just as many night feedings as my wife. And I’ve had as many trips to the playground as my wife.