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Mom Congress Challenge – What Makes a Great Teacher?


This week our Mom Congress delegates responded to the following:

In the wake of teacher appreciation week, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a fabulous teacher. No one can seem to agree on a fair and effective evaluation system for teachers but when you see great teaching, you know it. How do you know it? What would a teacher need to do to ace your personal teacher evaluation?

A great teacher knows my child, not just academically, but personally. Having this relationship builds community and respect.  ~Lyssa Shadevan – Georgia Delegate 2011

What I look for in a good teacher is probably what I would also look for in a good friend or co-worker: someone who is engaged, personable, organized and cares about their work.  Most of my children’s teachers have been amazing but we did have one who was spacey and lacked focus.  She couldn’t control her classroom and every time I volunteered I came away with a headache and wondering how any child could work in that atmosphere.  That was my oldest child’s first grade teacher and fortunately, the teacher quit soon after. That whole experience taught me to get involved in the classroom and really get to know each teacher.  My fourth grader now says she feels good going to school because she knows her teacher genuinely loves her – I couldn’t ask for more than that! ~Shayne McCaslin – Arizona Delegate 2011

My son Billy, age 9, has the most fabulous team teachers this year, Ms. Jackson and Ms. McDougald. They have been so thoughtful in planning field trips that include him – he uses a wheelchair which can make field trips complicated sometimes. This year the third graders had plans to travel to a nature preserve to see one of the largest cypress trees in Louisiana. The terrain at the preserve is not wheelchair friendly. All on her own, Ms. Jackson took the initiative to bring her personal off-road golf cart for Billy to ride in. She had to make a special trip to bring the golf cart behind her vehicle on a trailer over long gravel roads into the preserve. She acted like this was nothing special for her to do but even months later when I think about her kindness in making Billy welcome on this field trip and in the classroom all year long, my heart just almost bursts with mom-happiness. ~Catherine Calhoun – Louisiana Delegate 2011

Regardless of content, grade level, student level, college degrees, experience, WHATEVER....a GREAT teacher inspires one to do their best!  When a child goes home and talks about a teacher, especially at the high school level when it's no longer cool to do that, that teacher sparked something inside that student to think or question.  The "art" of teaching is having the gift to make students think, observe, and question.  ~Dr. Marilyn Zaragoza – Florida delegate 2011

A fabulous teacher:

     ~ Doesn't know all the answers and will admit this
     ~ Is willing to learn what he/she doesn't know
     ~ Can inspire a love of learning in any student
     ~ Teaches to each student as the individual he/she is
     ~ Challenges all learners in his/her classroom to want to be successful in school, and then finds ways to make that happen
     ~ Provides an environment of absolute love and acceptance while still maintaining discipline and holding high expectations

~Bonnie DeLong – Indiana Delegate 2010

Great teachers are hard to define in words. There is an aura that surrounds them so then when you encounter them, you just seem to know they are something special. Here are a few of the qualities that make these teachers so fantastic:

*Strong knowledge of the content they teach

*Various methods to get pass their content knowledge along to the students (audio, visual, kinesthetic, etc)

*A connection with his or her students. This one is hard to define, and each teacher’s personality makes the type of connection different, but you can tell by observation if the students feel safe, happy, and connected to their teacher.

*Willing to be open and frank with parents about their child’s performance academically, behaviorally, and socially. And also pro-active in giving the parents support when needed.

*Eager to learn more about their profession and seeking out those opportunities to learn through conferences, college courses, and the like.

*Organized and a master planner and multi-tasker

*Handles unplanned situations and emergencies calmly and intelligently

*Advocates for children and education—a great teacher speaks out for the families who cannot speak for themselves due to their life circumstances. Great teachers work to make changes in policies and legislation that are not best for children and families and make recommendations for positive change.

*Passionate and excited about life and all there is to learn; also knows how to have fun and not be embarrassed by it.

*A deep love of the children they teach and care for, and the desire to do the best for them, regardless of the paycheck  (which is quite small)

There is so much more to great teachers, but those are a few of the qualities they possess.  ~Jennifer Lavender-Schott – Michigan Delegate 2011

The characteristics of a good teacher vary so greatly depending on the grade they teach - some are better suited to working with younger kids while others connect better with students in high school.  There are however, some characteristics that although they are universal - may be very difficult to quantify or measure.

Teachers must connect with their students.  This can manifest itself through engaging communication, well-chosen art or music projects, community service example and commitment, and sharing a passion for the subject(s) they teach or their own hobbies.  If my child's teacher loves golf - and takes the time to teach the sport to them - and takes them on a golf field trip - and then makes the connection to some of the great philanthropy and social change that is being promoted by golfers around the world (Gary Player and his evolutionary reversal of his position on apartheid and his ongoing support of children's charities and underprivileged youth education is a good one) - the students make a connection.  Students want to know their teachers.  It helps when they know that they are people too.  My kids love it when their teacher's own children (sometimes college students) come and work in the classroom during extended college breaks.

There are other characteristics, but this one was important enough that - as a member of the San Juan Unified School District's Strategic Planning Team, I identified and strongly supported the need for a student to have a significant connection with a teacher or trusted adult on campus for each year they are in school.  We went so far as to even suggest that if that connection was with the janitor - we considered that positive as well.  At my kids' former elementary school, everyone loves the custodian.  Nathan, a Vietnamese immigrant, came to the US as a teenager just after the Vietnam War ended.  He is up-beat and cheerful - even after having worked at the same school since he was 19 (he's 42 now)!  He always says "hello!" to teachers, students, parents - and often a loud "Happy Holidays!" can be heard - no matter what time of year it is!   He's there after school if a student has forgotten a book in class and meets the student's frantic parent with a cheerful "no problem!" when asked to unlock a room to get the book. ~Laura Taylor – California Delegate 2010

I believe an exceptional teacher takes a holistic and strength based approach with their students.  They look at the whole child from a socioeconomic perspective, the skills they bring, their health, nutrition, mental health, etc.  They look at the whole package.  They spend the first couple weeks of school really getting to know their students likes and dislikes, strengths and areas of needed improvement.  Then they develop a plan for each child by using their strengths.  For example, if Johnny love art and is good at art, how can the teacher use art to teach Johnny reading skills in first grade?   Well instead of giving worksheets, give him a paintbrush and let him paint his letters and make the sounds as he paints. Johnny can move on to illustrate stories and add his words as he learns to paint them   If Suzy is in kindergarten loves to play the violin yet struggles learning to count to 100, find a way for Suzy to use her violin for counting.  As Suzy creates a song or strategy with her violin she can play and teach others!

My daughter is in first grade this year and has a teacher that exemplifies a strength based approach.  She uses every single strength of that child in her class!  She is so creative, so patient, and so insightful.  She knows what each student needs and find a way to make them shine.  My daughter has grown leaps and bounds in her classroom not only academically, but in so many ways.  You should see this class work together and how strong they have become as a group and how they have learned to appreciate each other throughout the year.  It has been amazing to watch the year unfold!  ~Lisa Falduto – Wisconsin Delegate 2011

Last night, my husband and I went to Mexican dinner with friends of ours.  During our dinner, the ladies conversation turned to the school that each of our children attend and their teachers. 

As we talked about the many things that we like or would like to improve about our different schools, a consistent theme began to reveal itself....

it all came back to a need and desire for the classroom teacher to be "RELATIONAL"....Our wish was that our teacher each year would develop a healthy and loving relationship with learning, social skills, class management and our child.

If there were any "issues" (academic or behavior) at the school and the communication/partnership between the teacher and parent were good...then the outcome was POSITIVE.

Even if the "issue" was major, if a parent felt that the teacher cared, the relationship between school and home was actually STRENGTHENED.

If during an issue, the relationship between the parent and teacher was POOR due to

...poor communication communication emotion

...not listening

...not validating


...the perception of favoritism,

even if the issue was a MINOR one, the relationship between parent and teacher ended as a NEGATIVE one.

Discussing this with the women that I was sharing salsa with last night, they were amazed at the "relationship" that my son, Kody, has shared with his teachers over the years.  He considers many of his teachers as his friends and trusted mentors. As a mother, I have treasured watching my son grow into an amazing, confident man who is not living for "himself", but for the greater good of others.  Evergreen Christian School has done this for my boy.

I say this because I am so proud of my children's school and teachers. My children have had issues arise at Evergreen. But because of the leadership...from the advisory board to the principal, vice principal, teachers, staff, pastors and fellow parents, the outcomes have always been POSITIVE.  Any issue that ever has come up over the years have been handled with love and with RELATIONAL communication. 

As the ladies and I finished our fajitas and enchiladas, I smiled as they shared..."Your children are so blessed to be at a school that is doing it right."

I feel truly blessed.  My kid’s teachers get an A+! ~Renee Berry – Washington Delegate 2011

What Makes a Fabulous Teacher

I’m going to live in a surreal dreamy world for a minute.  It’s completely understandable to be concerned with what I am about to suggest.  But really, right now, we don’t have any methods of teacher evaluation that are any better than what I am about to propose.   Bear with me, it’s my dream, let me dream big for a minute.

The evaluation process would start well before the adult makes it into a classroom.  Instead of having professors and various college deans handle the interview process for accepting students into the school of education, let our youngsters ask the questions.  Let that college student who aspires to teach on the grounds that s/he “loves to work with children” prove it by interviewing with a child.  Children have a unique ability to gage disposition and that would weed out a lot of potential teacher’s right from the beginning.  Take me for instance, I wanted to be a teacher for all the wrong reasons.  I could ace the interviews, even answer the questions face to face by blowing smoke but had I been subjected to a handful of children, they would have seen right through my guise.

Once a student makes it into the school of education, move the student teaching experience to the beginning of student’s college career.  Yes, it might need a different name and would require a little more structure from the universities, but there is no doubt in my mind, if I had done my student teaching first, I would have run for the hills and continued to work on my degree in chemistry.   Nothing is more disappointing than making it through 140 plus credits and learning that I hated what I had chosen to spend my life doing.

With the children having the first say in who makes it through to the education program and then having the teachers face off against a classroom before trudging through all those classes,  I have no doubt that many more teachers could pass my personal evaluation process.  The bottom line is that adults over think the process and see what they want to see sometimes instead of seeing the situation through the eyes of a child.  Children have a unique ability to measure people.  Since the adults can’t seem to see through the politics sometimes, it only makes sense that in my dream world, my children would be the ones making the call on what makes a fabulous teacher. 

I asked my children as I wrote this and the answer I got from them is the epitome of what I’m trying to say.  The eight- year-old said, “a fabulous teacher would be smart, funny and like me”.  The six-year-old added, “oh yea and she would love to play”.  While it’s not hard to please a child most of the time, trying to fool them is plain foolish. ~Jerri Ann Reason – Alabama Delegate 2011

How do I know it?

When I am in the presence of a great teacher – and I have been blessed to be in the presence of many great teachers as a student, as an educator, and as a parent – I know it because I see and sense that the teacher has a genuine love of what they do.  A great teacher knows that learners, be they pre-kindergarteners or Ph.D. candidates, are all unique and all possess special gifts and talents.   A great teacher recognizes that teaching, and all that it encompasses (which is an enormous amount), is not something that a teacher puts up with or tolerates.  A great teacher behaves as if teaching is the honor and privilege that it truly is.  A great teacher educates, inspires, and models a love of learning for his/her students.  A great teacher continually seeks opportunities to grow and perfect his/her craft.  A great teacher comprehends the importance of genuine, honest, and consistent communication with their students, parent, and colleagues.  A great teacher gives respect and in turn earns respect.  A great teacher takes advantage of “teachable moments.”  A great teacher is human and understands what it is like to be a learner.  A great teacher realizes that each day presents a new opportunity and a fresh start.  A great teacher holds high expectations for all learners.  A great teacher gets to know his/her students, in terms of both personality and data.

What would a teacher need to do to ace my personal teacher evaluation? 

Strive to be his or her best daily and encourage his/her students to do the same. ~Cushon Bell – California Delegate 2011

A fabulous teacher shares her love of learning with her students!  She teaches them that learning is a life long skill that should be cherished.  She teaches her students how to investigate their questions, come up with their own hypothesis and guides them when they need it.  A fabulous teacher teaches her students like they were her own children, taking into account if they have a rough family life, stayed up too late studying or just are just having a bad day.  A fabulous teacher makes every one of her students feel like they are special!

Being a fabulous teacher is not all about having students pass a test.  ~Chanda Kropp – Minnesota Delegate 2010

What makes a fabulous teacher?

•             They are prepared.

•             They are always in the hallways in front of their classrooms waiting for their students in the morning with a genuine smile and a warm welcome to class.

•             They know their students' names and take the time to know something about them.

•             They  are ready to fill the curious and eager minds of their students with knowledge.

•             They  teach  the subjects with passion and excitement.

•             They are positive, respectful  and  have love for their students.

•             They know that each student is different and unique.  So they validate that difference and teach them according to their learning styles and abilities.

•             They know that no child is a lost cause.

•             They have a classroom where everybody feels accepted and an important part of the team.

•             They have bad days, but their students never notice if they have a bad day.

•             They accept help and suggestions from parents without feeling attacked or condescended.

•             They acknowledge that what they say to a child is as important as what they do.

•             They realize that sometimes they are the only role model in a student's life.

•             They are learning and improving and perfecting their method of teaching.

•             They maintain a level of respect,yet are always friendly.

•             They are willing to listen to their students and comfort them.

•             They have new and creative ways to engage their students.

•             They actually enjoy being a teacher; being with the students isn't just an obligation to them.

•             They're all about teaching the student valuable information and don't really waste time telling personal stories till after the work is done.

•             They are proud of their students when they do well on an assignment,work hard or did the best they could do.

•             They are a teacher and good one at that.

•             They made a difference and made the student smile.

•             They are remembered even until the twelfth grade. ~ Felisa Hilbert – Oklahoma Delegate 2011

 Having recently written a letter of appreciation to our District Superintendent regarding one of our daughter’s teachers, here are some of my thoughts on what makes an excellent teacher:  a dedication to individual student progress, a commitment to students academic and personal excellence, and having an innovative and engaging teaching style. 

A great teacher holds each student accountable for their work and behavior.  Having keen interpersonal skills coupled with a contagious enthusiasm for learning inspires the  students to strive to meet high classroom expectations.  A high level of respect for the students and their individuality help promote classroom harmony and mutual accountability.  And never underestimate the power of a sense of humor!  Teachers who take time for fun and levity often make the greatest academic impression on their students.  ~ Katherine Kollman – Maine  Delegate 2011