Continuing the Conversation: What Makes a Great Teacher?

Because I was also drawn to this article, I’d like to further the discussion and point out a few connections that I made while reading. It seems that not only is Dan Brown’s story a heartwarming narration about life as a teacher (that reminds us all of our own experiences with great teachers), but it also provides us with a unique opportunity to view the Common Core that we have been discussing in class through a more personal lens. A lens that will perhaps allow us to view the curriculum not as a set of standards designed simply for results, but as a rulebook or guide that can help “build” a great teacher – just as Brown suggests.  

No one can deny that the text of the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy feels more or less dry and even sterile at times. At certain points it feels as though these standards bind and restrict educators simply for the sake of results (results that may also seem unattainable in certain circumstances); but when approached from the angle of personal experience, as in Brown’s article, there are direct connections to be made between these standards and the elements and qualities that make a great teacher, which reminds us that these standards are not constructed to restrict teachers, they are, in my opinion, designed to promote the growth and success of both student and teacher.

Take for example Brown’s first point about what makes a great teacher: supportive faculty and perhaps more importantly – a great principal. This reflects the sentiments stated within the “Key Design Considerations for the Standards” within the introduction of the Common Core, which states: “The standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school.” This is demanded to be a “shared responsibility” not only for the sake of results but because learning environments are more successful when everyone works together. It is not simply about splitting a daunting workload, making sure that each teacher carries a fair share; no, I believe that this point works in conjunction with what Brown reports and helps build a supportive environment, which will then assist in shaping great teachers.  

Continuing on the notion of support, the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy clearly states in Guiding Principle 10: “An effective language arts and literacy curriculum reaches out to families and communities in order to sustain a literate society.” This point directly connects with Brown’s second point, which also highlights strong connections with families and communities. Yes, the standards set out in the curriculum recommend that teachers engage and involve the community for the sake of producing a literate, and therefore successful society, but when we look at this from Brown’s perspective we know that by building relationships outside as well as inside the school structure, teachers are more likely to succeed. In this way, this objective benefits everyone. Which I believe is what we’ll find if we continue to read the curriculum with Brown’s perspective in mind. Yes, these are created and defined to achieve specific results, but they are not rules simply for student success – these guidelines can also be looked at as rules to help build a great teacher.

In addition to these connections, I also found Brown’s article connected well with another piece I was able to locate through the NCTE website titled “Supporting Beginning English Teachers: Research and Implications for Teacher Induction,” which asks the question: “Why do some early-career English teachers leave the profession while others stay?” Unfortunately, I was not able to gain full access to this particular article, but I believe that Brown’s personal illustration of his time as a teacher sheds light on certain aspects that help answer this question as well. Perhaps early-career English teachers lack the support system that Brown describes during his first point or they are not able to build relationships outside of the classroom with families and the community, as Brown suggests in point two. Both articles investigate what it means to be a great teacher by looking at personal experience, which I believe will be useful as we continue to analyze the standards laid out in the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy. These articles have (for me, at least) provided a means of understanding the curriculum in a way that makes it more personal and in a way that highlights the growth and success of both students and teachers. 

– Abby Thibodeau

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Continuing the Conversation: What Makes a Great Teacher?

  1. jorgegarciae

    Thanks for the excellent post Abby. In the following, I’m going to be referencing both your post and Ross to one extent or another.
    I agree that the teaching experience is very much an individual one. There is no “standard” teaching experience or set of methods that we can point to and say “this is the baseline teaching experience/method against which all others can be compared.” I also agree that in general the Common Core is meant as guidance rather than a prescription as to how we as individual teachers can enact good teaching practices. To a certain extent, then, we can take the Common Core for what its worth. Our execution of the guidelines of the Common Core are an act of interpretation and mediation, and this would be true *even if* the CC was meant to be prescriptive.

    But the question then arises: even if we take the common core as guidance which it us up to us to interpret, what kind of guidance is being offered here? What assumptions does this guidance have? How are the goals were are tasked with meeting structured? What are the assumptions behind that structure, and the goals itself?

    If we, as individual teachers, disagree with the fundamental premises and beliefs informing this document (which, it should be noted, represents a policy/political compromise of various kinds of voices, so disagreement should be expected), that means we will need to mediate/interpret the guidelines we disagree with in such a way so as to match our beliefs. Reinterpret and re-purpose them in a way that “stays within the rules” while subverting their purpose. It is in this context that I think fellow teachers can be valuable: they have experience working within and against the system and can help a new teacher come to grips with what to do with the common core in their own practice.

  2. clarkhseiler

    I think this is a great topic for conversation, especially as many of us must contemplate the next move towards our goal of becoming teachers. Abbey, I think you have highlighted an important point concerning the need to provide support for “rookie” teachers both within the school system and the community. The high expectations placed on new teachers seems capable of crushing anyone’s idealism, especially in reference to the Common Core. How can anyone be expected to implement a series of standards that assume so much about the learning process and the school environment?

    This brings me to Jorge’s point regarding individual interpretation of the Common Core, which I believe ties into Brown’s article and the notion of filling class rooms with inexperienced teachers simply to meet an increasing demand for educators. Teaching is no doubt as individual a process as learning, making the need to mandate policy somewhat of a necessary evil. Certainly we can’t expect teachers to dictate the educational paths of students based on individual educational ideology and philosophy alone; however, the interpretive process that Jorge points to in dealing with the standards assumes a kind of agreement with the values stated within the Common Core. This means that as prospective teachers, our responsibilities are two fold, as Brown points out in his article, “The first is with one’s students, trying to get the most out of them day in and day out. The second is for teachers to take on leadership roles and force their way into the public discourse to advocate for their students and their profession.” How does civic engagement factor into the educational process for prospective teachers? I agree with Brown in putting the needs of students first; however, engagement with educational policies from those within the field and the community could not only provide more support for young teachers, but could also improve educational opportunities and situations for students.

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