Sunday, March 14, 2010

The problem with great teachers

A great teacher can decide your future career whereas a poor teacher can make you completely lose interest in a subject that you previously showed promise in. Many of us can trace our choice of career or subject area back to one teacher whose enthusiasm and attention gave us confidence and inspiration. Someone who somehow pushes us to try that little bit harder and shows us how to take charge of our own learning is a school's most valuable asset.

Many authorities today are trying to impose various types of quality control to weed out "bad" teaching, often judged on the basis of exam results. Good teachers get good resluts would seem to be a logical conclusion but, as ever, it's never as simple as we would like. Think back to your schooldays. My favourite teacher could be my best friend's hate object and vice versa. The same teacher who inspired me to top grades caused a friend to completely give up the subject. Many kids go through school on a rollercoaster of grades as they switch teachers from year to year and results fluctuate due to simple personal chemistry. It's tough on teachers too. Imagine taking over a class that has just had a year with the school's star teacher. How do you follow that?

Isn't the teacher-centred system basically rather too vulnerable? I don't think it's so simple as there being "good" and "bad" teachers; it's often quite simply a matter of personalities and compatibility. How can we reduce the vulnerability of the system so that students' learning is less dependant on individual teachers? Good teaching is sometimes in the eye of the beholder so we need to encourage students to find motivation in their own networks. Maybe the best teaching is guiding students towards collaborative learning where they motivate each other, either face-to-face or on the net. I still believe that the teacher's role is important but it shouldn't be so decisive. More motivators are needed to smooth out the rollercoaster ride. Building personal learning networks will ensure that there are always people who can motivate you even if your teacher of the moment fails to inspire.

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