Recipe for a “Great” Teacher

It’s October and the jury is in.

Kids have organized teachers into “nice” and “mean” categories. Teachers have sized up their students. Parents have judged who’s off to a good start and who’s in for a tough year.

Just like moms and dads, elementary teachers come in a range of styles. Some are strict. Some are fun. Some are yellers. Some just seem to have it all together. But underneath it all, there are effective and ineffective teachers. Teachers who inspire and teachers who deflate. Teachers who want to be there and teachers who don’t.

In the eleven years my two children have attended public schools, they’ve had 57 different teachers. So far, we’ve been mostly lucky.  After working with and experiencing more than 100 different teachers (my kids and others I’ve watched or worked with), I’ve developed a recipe for a “great” elementary teacher. A recipe based on 99% unscientific research. Just my gut instinct. The ingredient list is short, but it does need four years (five in some states) of college prep:

- 1/4 cup Passionate cheerleader for kids and high standards

- 1/4 cup Skilled manager of 25 wiggly wonderers

- 1/4 cup Patient engager who connects to each student

- 4 T  Juggler of testing and hands on, experiential curriculum

- 4 T  Embracer of parent involvement

Mix together all ingredients. Pour into 9″ square pan and bake at 350 for one – three years. Check on frequently. When cool, test to see if bounces back. Present tenured teacher to deserving schools and families. Reward. Pay well. This is challenging work.

In a perfect world, all children would have “great teachers.” There are many fabulous teachers out there inspiring kids and changing lives.  But our education system also harbors some not-so-great teachers. The good news is that policies to improve teacher quality are making headway. More than 50% of states have passed tougher tenure guidelines in the past 6 months. Unions are starting to listen and better training is on the table. Be sure to check in with your school board to make sure this is happening in your district too.

If you’re feeling like your child drew the short stick this year, there is still hope. There are ways to turn a seemingly bad year into a positive, resilience building experience for all involved. recently posted a wonderful article on “bad teachers” and what you can do about it. Great, practical tips for parents and students who find themselves in this situation.

And if your children got lucky this year, let the teacher know that you feel that way. Write them a quick note. Send in supplies if you can. Many teachers I know keep a drawer full of  thank you notes so they can reread and refuel when they need it most. Great teachers deserve a thank you. Have you thanked one today?

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