It doesn’t matter how many laptops a classroom has. It isn’t important how many posters line the walls or what type of clothing is permitted in schools. What matters most to students’ education is undeniably, unequivocally teachers.
Students know better than anyone the power of a good teacher, but the education system struggles to understand how this one, simple, fallible resource could be so vital in producing smart, successful citizens. Yet, even after countless studies, the results remain the same: We need teachers, now and forever. Here’s why.
The Quantified Impact
Teachers are expensive – a fact that has encouraged countless research on teacher effectiveness to better place value on their roles. Yet, nearly every study concludes that well-trained teachers are more than worth the expense; in fact, we may not be paying them nearly enough.
A single good teacher, one who has consistently produced students with high-achievement scores in standardized tests, can influence students’ performance for years to come. Perhaps the most striking evidence of teachers’ value comes from the University of Tennessee, which measured student outcomes amongst students paired with teachers who typically produced high-achievers as well as students assigned to teachers with lower results.
On standardized tests, students who received instruction from three high-performing teachers in a row scored on average in the 96th percentile, while their peers, who were placed with three years of low-performing teachers, scored within the 44th percentile in the same tests. That 52 percentile difference is staggering, and could mean the difference between a lifetime of success or disappointment for entire classes of students.
It is important to note that effective teachers not only improve a student’s test scores; he or she also tends to inspire confidence and a love of learning that continues to benefit students even after their formative years. One study discovered that personal and family characteristics – like a low level of intellect, malnutrition, a bad attitude, or lack of motivation – have four to eight times the impact of teachers on student achievement. However, the same study found that an effective teacher has the ability to elevate those students who may fall behind due to natural and environmental detriments. Even when family, friends, and neighbors limit a student’s abilities, a good teacher can still inspire a passion for knowledge and success in school.
Of course, not every teacher provides the same value. In the studies examined above, only teachers deemed “high-performing” made improvements to their students’ academic success. Thus, it is imperative to understand which qualities we should encourage in educators so that future generations receive the best opportunities to learn and succeed.
Training and experience are some of the best indicators for effective teachers. Formal preparation at a college or university – including, ideally, a master’s program in some form of education - as well as certification in their chosen fields are mandatory in most regions, but studies have found that three years of classroom experience seems to be necessary for a teacher to learn from basic mistakes and form a winning teaching strategy. However, it is the performance teachers display during and after these three years on the job that matters more than their education and certification.
Usually, highly successful teachers do the following:
- Set high standards for themselves and their students, regardless of academic history
- Manage classroom time well, to increase periods of instruction, preparation, and reflection
- Vary strategies, assignments, and activities to address diverse learning styles
- Monitor goals with pre- and post-assessments, including examinations and feedback
- Be caring, respectful, and fair to students and parents
More and more school districts are beginning to value good teachers over educated teachers, and many already have regulations in place to encourage effective classroom behaviors like those above. Unfortunately, not all teacher assessments realistically measure teachers’ ability to produce high-achieving students. Erratic observations tend to be artificial and provide only a narrow view into individual teachers’ classrooms. Meanwhile, testing teachers by testing their students is also a dangerous game. Not only does it encourage teachers to focus only on tested topics, but it discounts the impact of other factors on student achievement, including friends, parents, and the students themselves.
Teachers are necessary parts of the education system for the foreseeable future, but merely employing any education school graduate isn’t enough. Schools need good teachers – students need good teachers – and to confidently employ good teachers, schools need a way to separate the effective from the ineffective as well as a way to reward good teachers for their outstanding work.