Teacher education is a commonly studied predictor of quality in early childhood classrooms and it has been consistently associated with teacher effectiveness in early childhood classrooms (Bowman et al., 2001; de Kruif et al., 2000; Helburn et al., 1995). Teachers can be popular just because they are friendly and helpful, but to be truly professional and effective they need other qualities. Students may not be able to put their finger on just why one teacher is more effective than another but we need to be able to identify the skills and behavior we require in a true professional.
Teachers can be popular just because they are friendly and helpful, but to be truly professional and effective they need other qualities. Students may not be able to put their finger on just why one teacher is more effective than another but we need to be able to identify the skills and behavior we require in a true professional. Proper preparation is another crucial requirement of professionalism. When the teacher enters the classroom s/he should have all the required materials and the lesson plan ready. Nothing is sloppier than poor preparation.
Interaction with the group needs professional standards of behavior: polite, firm and fair just about sum it up. And in orchestrating the class the teacher must give everyone their chance to contribute and should be flexible enough to modify lessons if they are obviously not going to plan. Indeed a fall-back position is part of good planning.
It stands to reason also that teacher must observe punctuality and appropriate tidiness and dress: it is not possible to demand such behavior from students if the teacher doesn’t set the standards. Indeed I can remember occasions on which students have complained to me about “scruffy” teachers.
Since the 1920s, the issue of teachers’ qualifications, which can guarantee their effectiveness, has been of concern for not only the science of Pedagogy, but also for those in charge of staffing schools with qualified professionals. As regards this issue, modern studies have revealed that the way in which a teacher carries out his work is determined by the union of his personality traits and acquired knowledge. A “good teacher” should possess a wide range of qualifications, which could, schematically, be classified as follows: Ι. Personality traits, attitudes and beliefs
These include personality traits related to the professional role of a teacher, which can be nurtured and developed through initial education and continuous training (Whitty 1996: 89-90). Specifically, studies have shown that traits such as flexibility in terms of the appearance of students, a sense of humour, a sense of fairness, patience, enthusiasm, creativity, care and interest in the students, all contribute to the effectiveness of teachers (Malikow 2005, Harslett et al. 2000).
These also include a teacher’s attitudes and beliefs on teaching, learning, his role, all of which affect the way he chooses, evaluates and comprehends the knowledge acquired, as well as the way he benefits from this knowledge in practice, as this very practice is shaped by that knowledge (Feiman-Nemser 1990, Schön 1983, Zeichner & Liston 1996). The attitudes of teachers affect their degree of commitment to their duties, the way they teach and treat their students, as well as how they perceive their professional growth (Chen & Rovegno 2000, DarlingHammond 2000).
Specifically, teachers that have high expectations for their students and insist on promoting learning for all students tend to be more effective ( Malikow 2005, McBer 2000). Another factor which contributes to the effectiveness of teachers is a feeling of commitment to the job at hand (Coladarsi 2002) and interest in the personal life of students and their families (Harslett et al. 2000). Lastly, “knowledge of self” and contemplation are worth mentioning, in that they presuppose critical and careful reflection, on the part of the teacher, on his actions and self (Turner-Bisset 2001: 110-112).
McBer (2000), from a series of interviews with teachers, identified 16 “professional characteristics”, including personality traits and individual attitudes, which she then classified into five groups: a) Professionalism: commitment, confidence, trustworthiness, respect;. b) Thinking: analytic and conceptual thinking; c) Expectations: disposal of achievement of high objectives, disposal for permanent comprehension of reality (e.g. the students, the order), and undertaking of initiatives; d) Leadership: flexibility, accountability, passion for learning; e) Relations with other: fertile interaction with involved in the educational process, skills of common work, comprehension. ΙΙ. Pedagogical Skills and Knowledge
Didactic and pedagogical skills are not only understood as familiarization with techniques that are then used mechanically, but also as the acquisition of routines which, without a doubt, every teacher needs in order to save time and energy for the more significant aspects of his work; at the same time, they refer to a set of theoretical principles and research data that lead to a variety of techniques and strategies which a teacher chooses and shapes, depending on the circumstances (for the discussion on teacher skills as an element of professional competency, see Beyer 2002: 311, Conczi et al. 1990, Oser et al. 2006: 1-7). A plethora of related studies shows specific actions by teachers which can be considered factors for their effectiveness.
With regard to the teaching approach, it seems that the more effective teachers (McBer 2000, Jasman 2002, Anderson 2004): set realistic objectives, try and give incentives to students for learning, apply various teaching methods, select participative forms of teaching, test and create didactic material, present information in a clear manner, combine words with pictures, use various teaching aids, maximize teaching time through systematic measures (e.g. planning, reduced disturbances in the classroom), assign work that will stir the interests of the students, monitor and evaluate the progress of students, set evaluation criteria for students and inform the students about them, and provide feedback to the students.
Another decisive factor in effectiveness is a teacher’s ability to recognize the diversity of students, to choose the best method possible for each student, and to create incentives for students (Harslett et al.2000). Yet another important factor is teachers’ cooperation not only with the students, but also with the parents of the students, their colleagues and the community at large (Jasman 2002). Lastly, effectiveness, to a great extent, depends on the way problems in the classroom are managed.
Research shows that more effective teachers keep all happenings in the classroom in check, that they are constantly on alert, that they swiftly deal with any problem that may arise and that they adopt various ways of working with students (Everston and Randolph 1999, Wang et al. 1999).
A basic qualification, whatever the case, is the acquisition of an extended body of knowledge which contributes to the way the teacher performs in practice (Birman et al. 2000, Hawley & Valli 1999). Generally, a teacher’s training is classified into three fields: subject knowledge, pedagogical and didactic studies, and teaching practice. However, what still needs to be defined is what should be taught in these educational fields, especially in pedagogical studies.
A way to define the contents of “professional knowledge” is to provide answers to the following questions: “What makes up the pedagogical and didactic work of a teacher?” and “What knowledge type and qualifications are needed for a teacher to cope?”According to Shulman, pedagogical thought and action go through the following stages: a) understanding / perception; b) modification / transformation; c) teaching; d) evaluation; e) feedback; f) reflection.
For a teacher to cope with the above, “professional studies” are required, that is: a) pedagogical content knowledge and b) curriculum studies (Shulman 1986, Shulman 1987: 14-19). Turner-Bisset suggests a course that would instil the necessary qualifications and focus on the following fields (Turner-Bisset 1999: 43-48, Turner-Bisset 2001): “substantive knowledge”, “syntactic knowledge”, beliefs about the subject, knowledge of curriculum, knowledge of contexts, knowledge of self, didactic training, knowledge of learners, knowledge of objectives and learning outcomes, general pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical-didactic amalgam and learning subject.
This body of knowledge, that can guarantee a teacher’s expertise, is determined by existing conditions and contexts, as well as the personal experiences, beliefs and needs of each teacher, a fact that renders an a prior definition of this knowledge extremely difficult. Nevertheless, there are knowledge fields that constitute a necessary prerequisite for every teacher, or at least for a large part of them, (Meijer et al. 1999, Meijer et al. 2001), and which form the basic part of “professional knowledge”.
These include: a) Subject knowledge: the teaching subject does not coincide with the corresponding science; however, teaching a particular subject requires familiarization with scientific knowledge. The way each scientific field is approached and studied is strongly defined by the job and duties defined in the job description. For such a specific comprehension of scientific knowledge as a way of teaching, familiarization with the science and its dimensions is necessary.
A classification of the dimensions of scientific knowledge is the following (Kennedy 1990): i) science content (opinions, axioms, facts, etc.). It relates to the “facts” and “principles” of the science being taught, from which the teacher derives appropriate examples, pictures, etc. for instruction; ii) relations, organization and structure of the contents of a scientific subject.
This knowledge on the subject defines the way it is presented to the students, the questions that would pass on the knowledge in a better way, etc.; iii) the research methodology on the scientific field. This knowledge of the methodology contributes to a better choice by a teacher of the methods through which he will approach the subject, the exercises, the questions, etc.; iv) the procedures and ways that contribute to the generalization of the “truth”, explored in every scientific field and now being acknowledged (syntactic knowledge).
Moreover, a teacher should be in a position to approach the subject being taught with specific questions, such as which social norms are connected to the subject, what is its relation to social issues and its value in everyday life (Kennedy 1990). He should also be in a position to diagnose misinterpretations of the knowledge offered by the students and fully comprehend the procedures required for the acquisition of the knowledge and skills connected to the subject being taught (Shulman 1987: 9, Perrone & Traver 1996: 395-397, Darling–Hammond & BaratzSnowden 2005: 14-16).
An extra requirement for a teacher would be knowledge on every subject in the curriculum of the grade he teaches, as this allows him to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the material, i.e. using pictures, analogies and knowledge acquired by students through other subjects (Ernest 1989). Finally, knowledge of the subject taught is related to a teacher’s beliefs. Research has shown that teachers’ effectiveness is strongly influenced by the opinion teachers have of the subject they teach (Askew et al. 1997, Medwell et al. 1998, Newton & Newton 1998).
Moreover, teachers with a more “holistic” outlook on the subjects they teach tend to be more effective (Turner-Bisset 2001: 28-29). b) Knowledge of learners: this comprises knowledge on the biological, social, psychological and cognitive development of students, on issues related to group dynamics and interaction between students as well as teachers and students, students’ behavioral problems, learning motivation, adjustment issues, learning difficulties, etc. c) Teaching methodology: a way to define the necessary qualifications of a teacher is to give a detailed description of the teaching methodology.
A schematic presentation of the specific structural elements of instruction follows: i) lesson planning, i.e. a teacher’s pre-lesson activities and actions (for example, organization of content into thematic units, transformation of teaching material into teachable knowledge, definition of teaching goals, methodological organization of teaching, time planning, selection of evaluation process).
Planning can vary, depending on whether it is short-term (weekly lesson planning or unit planning) or long-term (for the entire semester or academic year); ii) teaching performance, i.e. enforcing the choices made during planning (didactic organization, teaching path, application of teaching forms, direct actions of the teacher, use of teaching methods and aids; iii) Evaluation of teaching, i.e. evaluating the results mainly by assessing student performance (e.g. goals, forms, basic principles, assessment techniques). d) Curriculum knowledge: the school curriculum is a tool, which, in a way, determines the didactic choices of a teacher.
Teachers should, therefore, know the curriculum, textbooks, the rules and laws of the education system and, as a whole, the state’s role in education (Shulman 1986: 10, Shulman 1987: 9-10).
At the same time, however, the demands of society today call for a critical approach to the curriculum and its adaptation to the needs deriving from context. e) General pedagogical knowledge: this field relates to the organisation of the classroom, to motivating and retaining students’ attention, pooling resources, learning theories and pedagogical theories. Shulman refers to “principles and strategic classroom management and organization, which exceed the knowledge of specific subjects” (Shulman 1986). This type of knowledge is nonetheless acknowledged, as it secures a framework of mental representations necessary for the comprehension and interpretation of the school classroom.
Moreover, this knowledge is absolutely essential for lesson planning, as it guides the teacher’s didactic choices (Ernest 1989: 19-20). f) Knowledge of contexts: a teacher is called upon to evaluate the contexts in which he teaches and act accordingly, as his actions are defined by surrounding circumstances; in other words, there are no predetermined attitudes that would suit every occasion. Still, there are certain outlooks on reality, certain principles, research findings, that a teacher can use to interpret the context, as well as a host of techniques and strategies which can be used, depending on the situation.
Hence, knowledge of contexts refers to knowledge of the environment and the circumstances where a teacher is required to work: the school, the region, the state.
Specifically, it comprises knowledge of the students and their family background, as well as the entire local community, education system, the organization and management of the school unit, the history and philosophy of education in every state, the institutional framework and administrative structure of education. g) Knowledge of “self”: a basic qualification of teachers, related to their views on their role, responsibilities, training and qualifications, rights and professional development, working conditions, values, and philosophy, etc. and is mainly connected to their professional development through reflection, to learning through their teaching experience, in relation to their working environment (Lambert 1984, Kagan 1992).
The way teachers perceive their role defines not only their options, but also the way they comprehend, interpret and use this knowledge (Clandinin & Connely 1987). In conclusion, the qualities that can ensure a teacher’s effectiveness are not the sum of his knowledge, but rather the link between the different types of knowledge he possesses. These types of knowledge do not simply coexist: they should form a complete, inseparable unit of knowledge (Kennedy 1990).
The degree of connectivity between these separate types of knowledge sets apart a “competent” teacher from an “excellent” one, as a “competent” teacher manages to combine these knowledge forms in part, whereas an “excellent” teacher uses the knowledge deriving from each separate field most effectively (Turner-Bisset 2001: 131-141).
A wide range of empirical studies examine the impact of teacher characteristics on teacher effectiveness in order to draw conclusions about the extent to which these characteristics are, in fact, linked with teacher performance. Greater clarity on the empirical evidence can inform the wisdom of current practice, guide state efforts as they struggle with No Child Left Behind compliance regarding teacher quality. The framework for this study includes five broad categories of measurable and policy-relevant indicators to organize the teacher characteristics assumed to reflect teacher quality.
It is notable that findings for these characteristics frequently differ for teachers at the elementary school level and teachers at the high school level and that the body of research on the subject of teacher quality suggests that the context of teaching matters (e.g., differences in grade levels, subject areas, and student populations). A refined understanding of how teacher attributes affect their performance across these different teaching contexts can be helpful in determining the range of potentially effective policy options. The highlights of the empirical evidence include:
• several studies have found a positive effect of experience on teacher effectiveness; specifically, the “learning by doing” effect is most obvious in the early years of teaching. Teacher preparation programs and degrees
• Research suggests that the selectivity/prestige of the institution a teacher attended has a positive effect on student achievement, particularly at the secondary level. This may partially be a reflection of the cognitive ability of the teacher. • Evidence suggests that teachers who have earned advanced degrees have a positive impact on high school mathematics and science achievement when the degrees earned were in these subjects. • Evidence regarding the impact of advanced degrees at the elementary level is mixed. Teacher certification
• Research has demonstrated a positive effect of certified teachers on high school mathematics achievement when the certification is in mathematics. • Studies show little clear impact of emergency or alternative-route certification on student performance in either mathematics or science, as compared to teachers who acquire standard certification. Teacher coursework
• Teacher coursework in both the subject area taught and pedagogy contributes to positive education outcomes. • Pedagogical coursework seems to contribute to teacher effectiveness at all grade levels, particularly when coupled with content knowledge. • The importance of content coursework is most pronounced at the high school level. • While the studies on the field experience component of teacher education are not designed to reveal causal relationships, they suggest positive effects in terms of opportunity to
learn the profession and reduced anxiety among new teachers. Teachers’ own test scores
• Tests that assess the literacy levels or verbal abilities of teachers have been shown to be associated with higher levels of student achievement. • Studies show the National Teachers Examination and other state-mandated tests of basic skills and/or teaching abilities are less consistent predictors of teacher performance. Given that many dimensions of teacher characteristics matter—preparation in both pedagogic and subject content, credentials, experience, and test scores—the findings from the literature imply that there is no merit in large-scale elimination of all credentialing requirements.
Nor are improvements in teacher quality likely to be realized through the status quo. Most of the research does not seek to capture interactions among the multiple dimensions of teacher quality, and as a result, there are major gaps in the research that still need to be explored.
Nor does the research fully address evidence about teacher quality at the elementary and middle school levels, in subjects other than mathematics, or among different populations of students (such as high poverty, English language learners, or special education). In opposition to those who propose to eliminate all requirements for entering the teaching profession, this analysis supports a judicious use of the research evidence on teacher characteristics and teacher effectiveness.
The evidence indicates that neither an extreme centralized bureaucratization nor a complete deregulation of teacher requirements is a wise approach for improving teacher quality. What holds a great deal more promise is refining the policies and practices employed to build a qualified body of teachers in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools; for disadvantaged, special needs, and advantaged students; and for math, science, languages, English, social studies, and the arts.
Education policy makers and administrators would be well served by recognizing the complexity of the issue and adopting multiple measures along many dimensions to support existing teachers and to attract and hire new, highly qualified teachers. The research suggests that investing in teachers can make a difference in student achievement. In order to implement needed policies associated with staffing every classroom—even the most challenging ones—with high-quality teachers, substantial and targeted investments must first be made in both teacher quality and education research.