Do Poor Teachers Set Students Back Years?
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Do Poor Teachers Set Students Back Years?

Written by 27 March 2012

The following is a guest post from Jesse Black, a third year Primary School teacher at Mount Sinai College in Sydney, Australia.

Do Poor Teachers Set Students Back Years?

I read an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Andrew Stevenson entitled “Poor Teachers Set Students Back Years.” My first thought was do they mean “poor” as in under-resourced or do they mean “poor” as in under-performing? The answer, at first, seemed to be strictly the latter. The article opens with a short list of key techniques that make for good teaching practice:

Wait for your students to respond
Give them challenging questions
Tell your students the criteria for success

Students were asked to rate their teachers on how often they used the above techniques and from that data a conclusion was drawn as to which teachers were considered “poor” and which were “good.”

And now for the interesting part: Schools that rated in the lowest
socio-economic status (SES) areas returned survey results that identified their teachers as being the “poorest.” Is it because their teachers don’t care? Is it because the principals have given up? Is it because the students are simply too difficult to manage?

From the article: “According to the department’s own figures 20 per cent of vacancies in such hard-to-staff areas are filled by first-year teachers.” The answer, it seems, is none of the above.

The reason that low SES school teachers are rated poorly is because they are disproportionately filled with first-year educators.

And what does it mean to be a “first-year” teacher? It means that you are overwhelmed with responsibility on a daily basis. It means that you have no experiences to draw upon that can help inform not only your teaching practice, but also the way in which you deal with difficult parents, difficult colleagues, difficult benchmarks and yes, difficult students.

More importantly however, it means that you have no personal collection of trial-and-error-tested resources to use in the classroom. This is one of the major differences between a first-year teacher and a tenth-year teacher. So, who is going to help these first-year teachers? Are we giving them the tools to access quality resources? Do they have mentors who can guide them and say “This works great, that is rubbish, etc?” How can first-year teachers know what resources are quality and which ones are not? Who is helping them build their resource files? Is it being peer reviewed? Are they getting the opportunity to be creative?

Let’s stop focusing all of our energy on the students and instead pause to ask the question, “Who is the first port-of-call in changing a student’s life?” The answer for all of us educators, and the answer in the Sydney Morning Herald is obvious: It’s the teacher. Let’s focus our energy on them.

I truly believe that if we can help the teachers and remove at least some of the burden that especially first-year teachers’ face, then we will see real change in the quality of students that Australia is producing. We will see teachers in the lower SES areas improve their teaching practices with access to a wealth of proven, “classroom-tested” resources. From first-year teachers to fortieth-year, we need to stop circumnavigating the professionals and instead put the resources and tools into their hands and trust them with the responsibly that they meet every day. - Jesse

P.S. A good teacher, as opposed to a “poor” one, will naturally employ those techniques I listed at the top in his or her teaching practice. It’s a given that the importance of each criteria will vary based on what lesson is being taught and what is the desired outcome. For example, a directed-drawing art lesson has little need for “wait time.” A times-tables speed test does not often use “challenging questions” and lastly, a see-think-wonder chart has little need for describing a “success criteria.” So a superb teacher is not one who uses these techniques but rather one who knows when each is appropriate and can be flexible in his or her teaching.

About the Author

Jesse Black is a third year Primary School teacher at Mount Sinai College in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder and managing director of GetClassmate. You can connect with Jesse by visiting the GetClassmate blog.

P.S. Want to have your blog post featured by SimpleK12 like Jesse's? Click here to find out how you can be a SimpleK12 Guest Blogger too.

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Do Poor Teachers Set Students Back Years?


  • sandy said:

    I hesitate to imply that all first year teachers are poor teachers. Though I agree the first of year of teaching can be overwhelming and many of those teachers may struggle. However this year and almost every year I have had altleast one, if not more, amazing first year teachers.

  • David Phillips said:

    I have to say that many of the best teachers I know are young–some first year, some 2 or 3 year. Many of the worst teachers I know have been in the profession many years. From my 18 years of observation, these are some of the important elements that make a great teacher:

    A passion for learning: for themselves and for their students

    A willingness to improve and to seek new ideas and implement them (related to point 1)

    A humility that begets a sense of humor about oneself and the subject matter.

    A genuine interest in the well-being and the hopes of their students.

    Absent those four qualities, I don’t believe anyone can become a really successful teacher.