Are good teachers born or made?

This post was inspired by one of the same name on the E-teach blog .  Their article is actually about teacher training and its importance (and well worth reading); however I’m going to focus on the question asked.

As with many such questions – the answer is not clear cut.

Do I think adequate training could turn absolutely anyone into a decent teacher? No, most certainly not. I don’t even think it could turn everyone with the requisite subject knowledge into a decent teacher.

Whatever politicians may think about teaching being some sort of robotic activity where there is a “right” way to do it and a set of optimum lesson plans and activities, in truth it is almost always personality-driven. I’d certainly bet that the teachers you remember the most, it isn’t just about their marking policies or their effective timing, but about how they came across as people.  Teaching is ultimately about interacting with others – encouraging them, motivating them, empathising with them. If I am dealing with a pupil who is finding something hard, I need to try to “get into their head” to see where the problem is, and to help them believe in themselves and go on with confidence. If I am to inspire someone to go further than they dreamed they could, I need to know what makes them tick. If I am to lead by example, I have to show who I am.

That doesn’t mean that all teachers have to have a “big” (or in-your-face) personality – though I think a fair number of the good ones do (as well as some of the bad ones). A teacher needs to be able to find their own way. In a previous school, most of the department were “big” personalities. I saw an NQT try to teach like that, and it just didn’t work for her, because that wasn’t who she was. She managed to find her own, very different style a couple of years down the line, and became a much better teacher.
So I do think there’s an element of “born”. When I did my original degree I met some extremely talented mathematicians who would have been an absolute disaster in the classroom. We cannot assess everything based on qualifications and training.

However, that’s very far from suggesting teacher training is not helpful,relevant, important etc. I was about to say “essential” there, but would have had to accuse myself of rank hypocrisy, as … er…. I taught for 7 years without a teaching qualification and, I think, made a reasonable fist of it. But I still found the training helped me develop new ways of thinking about how to teach, strategies for behaviour management and generally encouraged me to become more of a “reflective practitioner” (excuse trendy buzzwords).




This entry was posted in Pupil relationships, Recruiting teachers. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Are good teachers born or made?

  1. sarah evans says:

    I thought the Economist article was interesting and it must be right that people improve if they are given help to do so which for teachers means regular observations. I think it needs to be linked to professional development not annual appraisals.

    • teacherposts says:

      Definitely de-link from appraisals; the minute the appraisal aspect is in there it becomes about ticking boxes rather than an honest and open professional dialogue. I think it’s also important to create a climate in which people can be open about their strengths and weaknesses; too often it is all too easy to be defensive, which becomes a bar to improvement.

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