Are Good Teachers Born or Made?

The perpetual issue of teacher quality is once again up for discussion. The Economist’s lead piece for June makes the valid point that what matters in schools is teachers, and presents a compelling argument for improving initial teacher education (something we discussed in last week’s article). The piece claims that good teachers are made rather than born and that teacher training (ironically, an outdated term) needs to be founded on a rigorous science of pedagogy.

In a challenging economy it’s little wonder that initial teacher education is under fire. Children and young people need to be excellently prepared for life ahead and when there are signs that perhaps they aren’t, we’re bound to look around for a cause.

Children and young people need to be excellently prepared for life ahead. Click To Tweet

However, there are many teacher educators out there who will show you evidence that their courses are founded on a blend of good quality research and excellent classroom experience often in extremely tight financial circumstances. To focus solely on initial teacher education as the cause and therefore potentially the cure of all ills in teacher quality is to miss the opportunity to make real change for the better.

For example, talk to just about any teacher and they will tell you that the one thing that would positively impact their ability to spend more time with each child and to offer constructive feedback that could really push learning forwards is smaller class sizes. While this (potentially expensive) measure often gets dismissed in the debate, we are foolish not to listen. If class size really is irrelevant in our drive to improve teaching and learning, why does the independent sector commit to ensuring that its pupils aren’t crammed in overflowing classes? What would a parent prefer for their child? A class of 16 or a class of 30?

Great teaching is ultimately dependent upon sound, functioning relationships as well as excellent initial teacher education. If we want to improve the quality of teaching, we must facilitate the development of effective relationships between teachers and learners and that invariably means somehow giving teachers more time once on the job. Pointing the finger at initial teacher education will never lead to the largescale improvements we desire if the circumstances of the job render it impossible to undertake to the highest standards.

High quality initial teacher education must be followed by sufficiently funded professional development. Click To Tweet

High quality initial teacher education must be followed by excellent, sufficiently funded, in-service early professional development. This must allow the new teacher to identify and pursue learning opportunities that have a direct positive impact on improving the quality of teaching. And this cannot stop once the early years in the profession are complete (a point made by the Economist piece). No nation can be considered to be serious about teacher improvement without substantial investment in continuing professional development that is specific to the needs of the learner throughout their career.

Perhaps, though, the real elephant in the room is teacher wellbeing. We can tweak initial teacher education and pile money into early professional development and beyond, but until we address the issues that negatively impact teachers’ working lives our efforts may be futile. What value in adding additional development to a teacher’s workload if the effect is to destroy balance in the lives of our greatest resource in the drive to improve pupil outcomes?

84% of school leaders found teacher workload difficult to manage in their school in the last 12 months. Click To Tweet

The Key’s State of Education Survey Report 2016, ‘Spotlight on Schools: Illuminating the challenges and priorities in school leadership today’ found that 84% of school leaders found teacher workload difficult to manage in their school in the last 12 months. The challenge of workload is considerable, with The Key report stating that, ‘this proved difficult for more school leaders over the past year than any other area of responsibility we asked them to choose from’. Further to this, 62% of school leaders are finding it hard to recruit and retain teachers, with workload being blamed for teachers leaving the profession altogether. It would be ludicrous to allow this debate to rest on the shoulders of initial teacher education if we really want to commit to change.

5 thoughts on “Are Good Teachers Born or Made?

  1. I am leaving teaching because of the workload. As you say not only is this impacting on my well-being,it impacts on the quality of my teaching.i am exhausted. After spending many hours assessing,moderating,levelling(despite there supposedly being life without levels ) and triple marking I suddenly remembered that oh ,I actually have to teach,but never mind,no time now to plan a proper lesson, no time now to stop and listen to that child who wants to tell me all about her birthday. Since my decision my colleagues have expressed their dismay,they say it will be a great loss. But I have never felt valued for my expertise,why are we always told yes but,do it better.I am sad for the children .

  2. I do believe that good teachers are made, before I did SCITT I had no idea of the level of pedagogy involved in teaching, how much you can research, and change how you teach different classes, and different students in those classes. However I also believe, that to be truly good, you also have to want to do it. You have to be passionate about what you do, and why you do it. Is that something you are born with? I don’t know, possibly yes. Definitely it is something that if you are without, you can never truly be a good teacher. Because if you don’t have that love and drive for what you do then why are you doing it in the first place?

  3. Good to see some have finally discovered pedagogy! It’s when you’ve spent 4 years in University, studying how to apply pedagogical values in teaching, and people in this country still look at you as if you’re from another planet, as their idea of education and young people “excellently prepared for life ahead” has only to do with military discipline and teaching them how to pass standardised exams…

  4. I am a retired mathematics teacher with 25 years of classroom experience.
    1.There is too much emphasis on teaching and not enough on learning. The most improved students (from school statistics) are those who study and try to find solutions with as little help as possible, it means that they come to teacher for help only after they exhausted all other possibilities, they are independent students.
    2. Thee SYSTEM needs to support teachers. How? a) the exam results belong to students, therefor an individual teacher can not be solely responsible for the exam results, his/hers disciplinary decisions MUST be backed by school management, b)national legislation MUST create a framework for teachers to work in e.g.: F means a failure and a student needs to redo it , the possibility of a student repeating a year for various reasons like a prolonged
    illness, poor attendance or performance needs to be introduced ( the rest of the world is doing it)
    TEACHERS NEED A GROUND TO STAND ON, when that is introduced then we can discuss the quality of teaching in our schools. that is a PEDAGOGY
    At present the adverse culture among some of the students and parents can make a best of teachers fail

  5. B Kelly, you are absolutely spot on about the need for students to try for themselves, and the ownership of results

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