What Makes a Great Teacher?

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Bill Gates is someone I admire. He has billions of dollars and absolutely no financial incentive to ever work again, yet he continues to devote his time, energy and resources to worthy causes, such as global health and, recently, education.

Gates recently committed $45 million dollars to the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, a study designed to identify the characteristics of good teaching. The idea, of course, is to then replicate those characteristics in classrooms across the country.

Not everyone thinks it’s money well-spent. Retired teacher James D. Starkey wrote a thought-provoking op-ed for Education Week, an op-ed which is inspiring a fair amount of controversy.

Teaching, Starkey says, isn’t about tricks and techniques. Teaching and learning, he says, “happen whenever significant adults interact with and direct children. You can’t stop it.”

I argued a similar point in a column I wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year. And while teachers weren’t happy with me (I argued that an interested adult who supports and encourages the children’s curiousity is an effective teacher — whether or not that adult holds a teacher’s certificate), I stand by my point. Children are hard-wired to learn. It is virtually impossible for a child to get through a day without learning anything. It’s even more impossible when that child is in the care of an attentive adult.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine constantly ask questions. Some are rather mundane (“Can I have oatmeal for breakfast?” and some are thought-provoking (“What effect did tanks have on World War II?”) All of them — even the oatmeal question — inspire discussion and learning.

The debate, though, doesn’t stop with me or Mr. Starkey. The debate as to what makes a good teacher will go on and on. Add your voice to the debate. What do you think makes a good teacher?

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