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The Effective Teacher | Ecology of Education

The Effective Teacher

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There are several dimensions taken together in varying levels of degree that embody the effective teacher. Since teachers range from preschool through post secondary levels, and are unique people, no two teachers will have the same combination nor will all of them be present in every excellent teacher. There are also qualities that effective teachers have that may not be included here. I invite others to add to the list.

Perhaps the most important quality of an effective teacher is that she be a learner. Paulo Freire refers to this role as “teacher-student” because the teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and reconsiders her earlier considerations as the students express their own. The effective teacher, then, is one who extends a cordial invitation to her “student-teachers” to enter into a dialogic relationship with her and the subject matter.

The effective teacher must be a leader who can inspire and influence students through expert and referent power but never coercive power. This teacher knows his subject well and is kind and respectful toward his students. He also has high standards and expectations coexisting with encouragement, support, and flexibility. This teacher empowers students and gets them to do things of which they did not think they were capable. This teacher has students who surpass him.

The effective teacher is a provocateur who probes, prods, asks incessant why questions, poses problems, throws curves, plays “devil’s advocate”, and stimulates frustration and conflict all in an attempt to “bust bubbles and plant seeds” so that tidy and stereotypical explanations are unmasked and discarded.

The effective teacher exemplifies what Maxine Green calls teacher as stranger. By keeping students at a healthy emotional distance, this teacher can, through continuous reflection, employ greater objectivity in her ability to balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the class as a whole. This allows the teacher to not only determine what those needs are but also how they can be accommodated to by innovative approaches.

The effective teacher models enthusiasm not only for his subject but also for teaching and learning in general. By showing exuberance, a positive attitude, excitement, and passion, the effective teacher makes it clear to his students that he would prefer to be nowhere else. Effective teachers value their craft and project this value to all in their presence.

The effective teacher is an innovator who changes strategies, techniques, texts, and materials when better ones are found and/or when existing ones no longer provide a substantive learning experience for her students. This teacher also employs a combination of lecture-discussion, simulation, service learning, cooperative learning, visual media, role-playing, guest speakers, and debates, and whatever is age and grade appropriate in order to accommodate diverse learning styles and to present the subject from different angles to facilitate insights and connections. This teacher values and uses students’ ideas about how to enhance their own learning.

The effective teacher is a comedian/entertainer who uses humor in the service of learning rather than as a distraction from it.

The effective teacher is a coach or guide who helps students to improve on their skills and insights. By neither letting them flounder nor prematurely offering assistance, the effective teacher enables students to own their own successes and to learn from their mistakes. By returning the students’ work promptly with constructive comments, and by being available for assistance, the effective teacher helps students to develop responsibility for their own learning, or to become what is known as self-reliant.

The effective teacher is a genuine human being or humanist who is able to laugh at herself and the absurdity in the world without being cynical and hopeless. She is a person who can self-disclose so that her students will see both her virtues and imperfections. By being a down-to-earth person, the effective teacher helps her students develop the will, courage and hope to fulfill their own potential as human beings.

The effective teacher is a sentinel who provides an environment of intellectual safety in which opposing ideas can be aired without fear of censure or retribution. This teacher can express his opinions and beliefs while taking care to distinguish fact from opinion. His students feel free to express their views with equal ease even if those views are at odds with those of the teacher.

The effective teacher is an optimist or idealist who firmly believes that without an ideal or mission, there will be no approximation of it. This teacher sees herself in each of her students and feels that her legacy is what she contributes to their development. This teacher achieves a sense of immortality by the positive influence she has on the lives of her students.

The effective teacher is one with others. He is a collaborator who places a high value on collegiality. He shares ideas and materials with others, solicits input and involvement by parents, and seeks help from his fellow teachers when he encounters a problem. The classroom walls in this teacher’s room are thin.

This teacher is effective because she aspires to all these qualities and more. She values truth more than certainty and the rightness of a cause more than personal popularity. As this teacher attempts to change the world, she transforms herself and others in the process. Thus, the effective teacher is a revolutionary because she knows that, with the exception of parenthood, her role is the most vital one on earth in the preservation of the sanctity of life and its natural outcome – the elevation of humanity .

This piece was originally posted on the Plymouth University website

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Author:Leo Sandy

Leo Sandy is Professor of Counselor Education and School Psychology at Plymouth State University. He has been teaching at PSU since 1996 and before that he was at Rivier College for 25 years (12 FT, 13 PT). He was a school psychologist for Lowell, MA Schools for 9 years and for several New Hampshire school districts. He is a U.S. Navy, Vietnam era veteran and member of Veterans for Peace. He has also been a columnist for the Laconia Daily Sun. He is a volunteer parent educator for the NH Department of Corrections. He is married and has two adult children and one grandchild.