Walking the chalk: what really makes a good teacher?

Saturday 2 November, 16:0017:15, Cinema 3School matters


The characteristics of a good teacher are subject to perennial debate, but the demands made of teachers have changed considerably in the modern world of academy chains and local authority hangovers. Have you done your assessment for learning? Has that vulnerable child been referred to mental-health services? Where is your safeguarding form? Can you tell who the socially disadvantaged children are? Can you de-stress them with think-pair-share? Have you had your LGBT training? In short, do you, the teacher, really care about the vulnerable?

Put all these together and the modern teacher emerges: organised, smartly dressed, value-free and tolerant, accustomed to accessing on-tap support and able to deliver bite-sized knowledge chunks without working too late – because workload matters! The modern teacher, above all, cares about their own mental health and about that of the pupils. The new methods and systems for school education are a win-win for vulnerable teachers and their students.

But can this trained-up and cognitive-science informed modern teacher really care? It sounds like the teachers of today can be produced without too many problems through the modern PGCE programme. But whatever happened to the skill of controlling the class and the unbreakable will of Goodbye Mr Chips? Once teachers were expected to be masters of their subjects and to hold the attention of pupils (mostly) through having a certain authority as a holder of important knowledge. Now, many would argue, teachers’ role has more in common with a social-policy analyst or consultant, armed with new cognitive techniques and a working knowledge of the law on safeguarding and how to process troubled pupils.

Just who is the modern teacher? What happened to chalk-and-talk, checking the work and good old-fashioned dictation? Have the techniques of the past been superseded because they failed to inspire pupils and safeguard the vulnerable or have they fallen victim to other contemporary sensibilities? Do modern teachers lack the work ethic to put in long hours in pursuit of their vocation? What really makes a good teacher and what does it really mean to care in education?