I’ve been fortunate to benefit from great teachers in my life, both at school and at work. I can also say I’ve had opportunity to experience just the opposite. Both had some level of influence with either my successes or my failures. We are each responsible for our own lives, but there are also influential factors along the way.

The other day youngest son said on the way to school, “They should make a rule that doesn’t allow female teachers to teach classes before noon.”

I asked why.

His reply, “because they’re so cranky in the morning”.

“Is that true of all your women teachers or just your form (home-room) teacher? “

“Well, mostly just my form tutor – she’s the worst.” He is always commenting on her moodiness in the classroom.

The second comment he made was about how he hates studying the sciences. He used to enjoy the subjects but he doesn’t ‘like’ the teachers he has this year, so now detests sitting through the lessons. He is always complaining about his biology class in particular, his biology teacher, and how “utterly boring she is”, as he so bluntly puts it.

My husband was a teacher for a while. He worked in adult education, providing training in which students came for week-long courses. Each and every week, after the students wrote their exams they were asked for their feedback about the course and about the instructor(s). Every week, he and his colleagues were graded on their performance. It’s one of the methods the school used to gauge their instructor’s effectiveness.  I think this is somewhat typical when people or companies are paying for courses or training. Those spending the money want to be sure they’re getting value for their dollar and the institutions providing the training want to be sure they’re providing it. The success of  their business depends on it.

Interesting how we don’t demand this in our children’s classrooms. Is it because our kids’ education is publically funded? Is it because we feel if there are problems we can’t do anything to change it regardless? Do we feel test results tell the whole story?  Is it too challenging and problematic to monitor teacher’s performance?

My typical answer over the years to our kids when complaining about a teacher has been “you’re going to have that in life – not particularly liking co-workers, bosses, teachers, etc. so you may as well get used to it. You just need to get on with it and put in the extra effort on your own.”

But why should this be allowed? Why should we just accept the possibility of our kids ending up with poor grades or hating the sciences (or maths in my case) because of an ineffective teacher? Why can’t our schools, our teachers and our classrooms be monitored more closely to help them to get better?

Last week the Fraser Institute published their reports which provide academic results for each school in Canada over a number of years. Along with academic achievement, the school report cards include information on enrolment numbers, parent’s average income, % of special needs or ESL students, etc… Their video Why we rate schools, proposes the value and importance of the reports and then provides their views on why teachers and teachers unions don’t particularly care for them.

Most people don’t like being evaluated, but how do we learn, grow, become better at what we do without evaluation and feedback. Evaluation of students is continual in schools to see if they’re on the right track or if we need to help them. Can’t we do the same with our teachers?

In a recent TED video* Bill Gates asks what makes great schools. He goes on to say that great schools usually have great teachers and then provides some research and statistics on what makes great teachers (*first 8 min of the video is about combating malaria, last 12 min is about education).

One of his statements  that stood out for me was something along these lines:

Say you owned a factory but management could only go down to the factory floor and check on the employees work perhaps once per year. And in order to do so, you had to warn them first, so they could in fact be prepared. We would think it was crazy!

And yet that’s exactly what we allow for teachers, in our classrooms, teaching our kids.

But back to dear son’s comment.

I felt much the same as he did about certain subjects in school. Most people I’ve talked to about this say pretty much the same thing.  The subjects I loved were the ones that had, in my opinion, the best teachers. Teachers that inspired, teachers that motivated, teachers that were good at communicating, were good at teaching. I did well in these subjects. What subjects did I do poorly in? Generally, ones with poor teachers.

So, what’s the answer? 

What does Bill Gates suggest we do to make more great teachers?

1. retain the good teachers

2. reward them – $$$$$

3. figure out what they are doing right and transfer those skills to other teachers

We need team teaching.  We need to be sure kids are involved in the classroom.  He talks of observing a teacher in a unique school that was achieving outstanding results.  He says that in the classroom, the teacher was constantly checking to see which kids weren’t paying attention and then keeping them engaged.

Not an easy task. 

If this all sounds negative, it is not meant to be.  Our kids also have some absolutely fantastic teachers and talk about them with admiration and enthusiasm.  It is these great teachers that need to be commended, appreciated and rewarded for their hard work and dedication.  And, we need their help teaching the others how to do the same.