What It Means to Be an Effective Teacher

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“Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” That was the view of the characters Thomas Gradgrind and Mr M'Choakumchild, created by Charles Dickens in his novel Hard Times, a novel which satirises school teachers who teach “nothing but facts” and regards students as "little vessels ... ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim." Reciting facts for students to absorb is undoubtedly an easy method of teaching, but is it effective?

This essay attempts to answer the question of what it means to be an effective teacher by examining in more detail five areas that, when implemented effectively, can help to produce a productive learning environment that will enable effective teaching to take place – classroom organisation; student diversity; managing student behaviour; planning for instruction; and student motivation.

The effective teacher
A productive learning environment is a classroom that is orderly and is focused on learning (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). According to Lyons, Ford, & Arthur-Kelly (2011), students feel more motivated to learn when they feel accepted as part of the school community, feel physically and emotionally safe, and feel that their needs are being met by teachers and other students. In order to create such an environment, the classroom needs to be well managed and organised. Effective organisation of the physical classroom is of fundamental importance according to Arthur-Kelly, Lyons, Butterfield, & Gordon (2006) and an effective teacher should have input into the layout of the workspaces to ensure that they have visual contact with students from anywhere in the classroom. This point is reinforced by Reynolds (cited by Freeman, p273) who noted that “competent teachers should also determine the most appropriate social arrangements for the students and lesson”.

Along with the physical layout of the workspace, a teacher’s personal traits such as positivity; friendliness; compassion; respect; ability to listen; possessing good communication skills; and a willingness to help are integral to developing a productive learning environment by helping to establish a positive ‘climate’ or ‘feeling’ within the room (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Indeed, Walker (2008) conducted studies that show that the personal (qualitative) qualities of a teacher have a greater impact on students than their academic (quantitative) qualities as it helps to build a personal relationship with the students.

In addition to creating a positive climate within the classroom, it is fundamental to effective classroom organisation to establish a set of rules and routines to ensure safety, order and predictable consequences for behaviour (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). Whilst rules detail acceptable standards of behaviour, routines give students guidelines for completing recurring tasks such as going to the toilet or transitioning from one activity to another. Research has also shown that an effective teacher will involve students in setting up the rules and routines, making students feel more accountable for maintaining them (Lewis as cited by Marsh, 2008). This also complements the idea that an authoritative approach to teaching tends to be more effective than an authoritarian or permissive approach, as documented by Whitton, Barker, Nosworthy, Sinclair & Nanlohy (2010). Effective authoritative teachers provide students with a model of competence and recognise that their students need to feel autonomous and have an ability to adhere to expectations, rather than simply following instructions (Whitton et al., 2010).

In order to implement and display any of the above, an effective teacher has to be well organised so that instruction can start on time, transitions from one activity to another are quick and smooth and the required materials are available, which maximises available instructional time (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010). To...
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