Imagining School

Boldly Reshaping Education

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What is ‘Good Teaching’?

By: Alex Wenzel

Although I have had a number of great teachers throughout my education, I want to start by reflecting on my cooperating teacher during my student teaching experience.  This was one of the first times I observed and analyzed teaching practices and started answering the question for myself:  What is good teaching?

His name was “Mr. Ritz” and he had a big effect on the type of teacher I try to be.  He taught high school life science in a suburban school outside of Milwaukee.  He was a very popular teacher (even at 61 years old!), in tune with student needs, rigorous, and effective.  I can summarize his effectiveness as a teacher as one important quality:  He Cared.  He cared about his students’ academic success as well as their personal health and happiness.  He called home, made personal visits, and planned all sorts of enriching activities outside the classroom.  He listened, researched and connected with his students.  He provided a chance for meaning making and for students to volunteer and give back in the community.  He was there for every student that walked into his classroom and they knew it.

When I first brainstormed how to answer the question, “What is good teaching?”, I thought my answer would start with things like classroom management, content knowledge, application of learning theories, etc.  But reflecting on a particular teacher has caused me to start out this response differently.

We all know intrinsically that students don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.  How they feel when they enter the classroom is probably the biggest predictor of learning.  Good teaching has and always will begin with a caring, honest, and respectful student-teacher relationship.  This is what Mr. Ritz did so well.  Good teaching looks like relationship building, empathy, emotional intelligence, and understanding of child emotional and social development.

But of course, that’s just the starting place.  Mr. Ritz cared about his students, but he was also an excellent teacher in other ways.

I believe the other major factor in good teaching is understanding and application of learning theory.  Good teachers understand components of student behavior and use reinforcements and punishments effectively to promote desirable behaviors.  Effective teachers ensure that all students and participating and getting feedback.  They also apply other theories of learning to lesson planning such as cognitive and constructivist views.  In practice this looks like activating students prior knowledge, student-centered learning approaches, inquiry learning, etc.

To summarize, my ‘non-negotiables’ are:

  • caring
  • relationship building
  • empathy
  • emotional and social development
  • effective use of reinforcements and punishments
  • student participation and feedback
  • connections to prior knowledge
  • student-centered learning approaches