Measuring the Greatness Factor

After 3 years of observing classrooms, collecting student surveys, and measuring student achievement, the Gates Foundation MET study reported: “great teaching is the most important in-school factor in determining student achievement.”

Good news, right? Many teachers that I know began teaching to have an influence for good in students’ lives. And they’re doing it!

Of course, many factors contribute to overall student achievement: parental support, social health, the school’s available resources-- just to name a few. But that’s the beauty of teaching: one dedicated teacher really can make the difference.

And during NPR’s celebration of 50 Great Teachers, twelve educators shared what it takes to be great.

  1. Realize that teaching is a learned skill: So true! No one is born a great teacher, they are developed, just like their students.

  2. Build trust: If your students trust you, the rest is easy, said one swim instructor from L.A.

  3. Be a sparring partner: Students will challenge you, love, you, reject you, and oppose you; how you react says a lot more about you than what your students say about you.

  4. Be someone to watch over them: “I want them to say, ‘At least one person, Miss Begay, is there every day for me. Miss Begay is going to wonder where I am if I go missing. There will be one person looking out for me, and it’s Miss Begay.’” And for some students, that’s the most important thing.

  5. Be a teacher, not a friend: Nurture a trusting, respectful relationship-- but remember that there’s a line. A teacher once told me that he loves getting students’ input on how he can better his class. But, he said, would you ever tell your doctor exactly how to do his job? No, of course not, and here, I am the doctor.

  6. Believe in their success until they believe, too.

  7. Recognize it takes vulnerability to learn: “It takes a lot for any student… to feel confident enough to say, ‘I don’t know, but I want to know.’”

  8. Look for the success stories: You can’t save everyone, but you can save the ones that want to be saved. Even if it’s just one child, it’s worth it.

  9. Blow off steam, but remember why you’re here: “Yeah, there’s day when I complain. And the people I complain to think I’m insane because I haven’t left this place. But these kids deserve better,” commented a high school math teacher from Oklahoma.

  10. Be grateful to your own teachers: Amen. We are all the product of great teachers. We all had someone (or many people) that awoke something inside of us that we didn’t know was there.