What makes a good teacher?

Short answer: It’s anybody’s guess, until you see them in action.


Interesting article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives

A couple of economic researchers chased after a Holy Grail: “Searching for Effective Teachers”.

They reviewed a stack of studies, conducted a few new ones and drew conclusions about teacher recruitment in public schools.



Some of their conclusions are conventional, and some may surprise you …



A McKinsey Report argues that  too few teacher are drawn from the top 1/3 of their college classes.

English translation: teachers aren’t smart enough.

The remedy: boost pay too attract better talent.

The JEP authors respectfully disagree.

They could find no evidence that a high college GPA is a predictor of teacher effectiveness.


Case in point: they cite a few studies that looked at Teach for America – a program that I’ve long heralded.

The conclusion: well-credentialed TFA teachers were no more effective than “regular” teachers in reading & writing courses … and only slightly better in science and math courses.

The rationale: TFA teachers were stronger academically but lacked a background in childhood learning and didn’t connect as well with students.


More broadly, the authors could find no strong objective hiring criteria that reliably predicted teacher effectiveness.

Not GPA, not school, not major … nothing.

And, they concluded that interviews done by administrators didn’t fare any better.

Some candidates who had strong interviews performed poorly on the job; some who were marginal in interviews became top performers.


So, what to do?

The authors advise casting a wide net when hiring, but put new teachers on a short leash (with tight supervision and frequent reviews) … and then cull the herd quickly when it becomes evident that a teacher isn’t cutting it.

They argue that a teacher’s effectiveness begins to plateau after the 2nd year … so if they don’t perform in the first 2 series, bid them farewell


P.S. The principle may apply outside of education.

I always considered myself a good, tough interviewer.

Looking back, I figure I was wrong about half the time.

Flip a coin.



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One Response to “What makes a good teacher?”

  1. dkabell Says:

    Gee guess I was wrong about “good” teachers, but wait, this is a study, and we know how accurate studies are, remember? So I am not convinced. Here’s another attribute – are “tough” teachers good teachers? Think back on how much you learned from the tough teachers you had versus those who had lower goals/expectations. My own experience is that when you “push” students you will be surprised at the level of achievement.

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