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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Dr. Elaine Heffner: Building a better teacher

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  • Building a better teacher is a topic on the minds of many educators and parents these days, and now it’s the title of a new book by Elizabeth Green. The subtitle, “How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone”) suggests a solution will be offered to a problem for which a number of solutions have already been tried. Her book highlights the huge gap between what the best teachers do and how what they do has been evaluated. Green’s view is that good teaching is the result of skill and can be taught.
    With so many “experts” weighing in on this question of what makes a good teacher, it seemed that maybe the best expert to consult would be a student. What follows is a discussion with an 11-year-old about to enter the sixth grade about what she thinks makes a good teacher:
    “Someone who is nice.”
    What makes a teacher nice?
    “If someone is going out of line, not being really strict but in a nice way putting them back in their place. If the teacher notices someone fooling around, not in front of the class but after class ask what’s going on? Why are you fooling around? Is there a problem? Bad teachers are too strict, they talk to you in front of the class and they are not very good at explaining things.”
    What makes a teacher good?
    “A good teacher does not teach you everything at once but teaches it in parts. Also, doesn’t teach it once but several times, especially if kids don’t get it. Sometimes kids don’t want to tell you they don’t get it.”
    How can a teacher tell if a kid is not getting it?
    “If the kid is not paying attention, looking around. If it seems like the kid is having a hard time.”
    How can a teacher tell if the kids are getting it?
    “After she’s done teaching she can tell by the test papers. Maybe the kids who are not doing so well don’t understand what was taught. Some kids are really smart and get everything. Other kids are not. But it’s not always the teacher’s fault. It could be the kids – how their brain functions – not the teacher. Other times it could be that the teacher didn’t explain it that well. That’s what’s good about parent/teacher conferences – to see if it’s the kid or the teacher.”
    “In my opinion, good teaching is teaching in different sections. It is going over the material slowly. I like smart boards because you can see it, write on it and see what you are learning.”
    I asked what she thought of the tests that are being given these days as a way of seeing what kids have learned.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The tests now are really hard and don’t give you a good judgment of kids’ grades. You don’t know what you’ve really learned because the questions get so hard – even stuff beyond your grade – so you can’t tell what you know.”
    Some interesting points made: One, the importance of teachers making sure that kids are getting what they are teaching. A related point, the use of tests in this regard. This student was differentiating between tests the teacher gives to see if the children are “getting it” and the other statewide tests they are now being given. The “teacher tests” are for the benefit of the children, the other tests now given are being used to judge the teachers.
    If we want to build better teachers, maybe we should be learning from the students who the good ones are.
    Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. Dr. Heffner is the author of “Goodenoughmothering: the Best of the Blog,” as well as “Mothering: the Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism.” She is a psychotherapist and parent educator in private practice, as well as a senior lecturer of education in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Heffner was a co-founder and served as director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And she blogs at www.goodenoughmothering.com.

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