“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” 

I was probably one to wind up my own teachers with this phrase (from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman) when I was at school all those years ago. Yet, only those within the teaching profession really know what it is like to be a teacher.

We are often the butt of jokes about only working from 9-3 and having extortionately long holidays. Yet the teaching profession is suffering from a recruitment and retention crisis. If teaching is so rosy, why are individuals not flocking to join our ranks in droves?

It’s because deep down, the general public know that teachers do a pretty awesome job and that the average Joe or Jolene wouldn’t last more than two hours in the classroom without quitting! It takes a certain type of person to be a teacher. We are a unique breed.

So, how do teachers do it? What makes an effective teacher?

Continuous improvement

“When you’re green you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot,”

(Raymond Kroc)

This quotation, from the founder of McDonald’s, encapsulates effective teaching for me. The most effective teachers are reflective, constantly strive for improvements, and understand that they are never fully grown. Effective teachers understand that their work is never done, and there are improvements to be made in everything they do. Finding these marginal improvements excites them, as they know it will help their students that little bit more with their learning.

Never take yourself too seriously

Kids are kids. If you don’t like them, don’t become a teacher. The most effective teachers strangely enjoy working with children. Yes, children attend school to learn – we all know that. But enjoying school and learning lots are not mutually exclusive endeavours. The most effective teachers are not robotic and mechanical; they use their sense of humour and personality to engage their learners to make the greatest progress possible. 

Routines

The most effective teachers maximise the use of routines within their lessons: from standardising the way their students enter and exit the classroom, to how students answer the register, to how they deliver the content of a lesson, to how students stick sheets into their books. Routines lead to automaticity. In turn, automaticity allows for greater creativity and mental processing. Without adopting such patterns and habits, teachers can become blinkered, exhausted and unable to respond to other – non-routine – things going on in the classroom. If a teacher’s mental energy is already used up, there is no more capacity for them to notice certain cues or behaviours, which if missed can snowball out of control.

Subject knowledge

We all know that just because you have a PhD it doesn’t make you a great teacher. Far from it. In fact, the more we know, often the harder it is to explain a topic to a student as we overestimate the amount of prior knowledge that they have. Instead, the most effective teachers have excellent subject and pedagogical expertise allowing them to present information to students in the simplest way possible, breaking down learning into a series of small, iterative steps. Effective teachers are not magically blessed with this know-how; they work on it continuously and constantly reflect on their approaches to ensure they are the most effective and conducive to learning for their students. 

Productivity and wellbeing

I’ve already mentioned that teachers are a unique breed. Teachers are teachers because they enjoy developing others, seeing individuals grow, and sharing their knowledge with students so they can achieve more than they thought possible. The most effective teachers are ones that understand they make an extraordinary difference to others, but understand that their own priorities, health, and families must always come first. They understand that there is a never ending ‘to do’ list, and that they could work 24/7, 365 days a year and their work would still be unfinished. A teacher who is effective in the classroom, is one that strives to have and can achieve a terrific work/life balance. 

Effective teachers are teachers who take charge of their diaries and events, rather than being controlled by them. They understand there is only a limited amount of time in each day, and prioritise which tasks are the most important and most impactful for them to complete.  They understand that it is far better to be fresh and alert in a classroom, than to have an extraordinarily animated PowerPoint that they are too tired to deliver!

Teaching is a wonderful profession and we make a huge difference to our students.  Even though they may not remind us of that all the time, students will look back fondly at their time at school with the teachers that they were lucky enough to have been taught by.  I hope that you found this article useful and have something that you can reflect upon in your own practice.