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The Sound of Ideas

What Makes Teachers Effective?

Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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What Makes Teachers Effective? Research shows an effective teacher can have a lasting impact on students, putting them far ahead of their peers. But educational researchers know suprisingly little about what makes some teachers more effective than others. Some teacher training programs however are beginning to focus on just that. Wednesday morning at 9, join host Dan Moulthrop and New York Times Magazine contributor Elizabeth Green for a conversation about a very fundamental question: What does good teaching look like?


Education, Government/Politics


Elizabeth Green NYT Magazine Contributor; Editor, Gotham Schools; Spencer Fellow, Columbia University
Dr. Janet Herrelko, Associate Professor, School of Education and Allied Professions, University of Dayton
Scott Barber, Seventh Grade Science Teacher, Berea City School District

Additional Information

Building a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green, The New York Times Magazine

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steve thomas 8:24 AM 3/31/10

I am curious to why I haven’t heard any commentary concerning the creation of desire. The desire to share information, the desire to learn. Both are products of passion. Passion can drive an atmosphere where belief in learning can be fostered. This is more inherent to “great teaching” than technique.
Steve Thomas

John from University Circle 8:42 AM 3/31/10

I’m a physician, and in medicine, we are required to obtain a number of “continuing medical education” credits to obtain our board re-certification. This consists of talks on new research and advances in the profession. Law has a similar practice. Does teaching have anything similar to this?

TeKara Ray 8:42 AM 3/31/10

Responsive Classroom (RC) techniques are a great tool to facilitate classroom management. I teach kindergarten at a Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary school. The whole school uses RC, it involves establishing procedures during the first six weeks of school and practicing simple things like walking in the hall, arrival, and using the restroom. RC also expects teachers to use teacher language like “I noticed (a good behavior)” and ensuring students know what is expected of them. Sometimes students are not aware of their expectations and thus behavior issues arise.

Matt Bolek 8:50 AM 3/31/10

Great ideas - BUT what if the parents see no value in education - If there is no involvement or motivation from the parents there will be no progression and it can be deflating to the teachers themselves—Many times it is just hard enough to get the students to school for a multitude of reasons - What are your panels opinions on this - This is a MAJOR problem in Cleveland Schools -

Betty 8:53 AM 3/31/10

This may sound simplistic but here is what I have tried to use as guidelines in my teaching (30 plus years)
It’s all about the students
Know your material and be excited about it
I asked my students what they thought made a good teacher and enthusiasm and knowledge of content was their answer.

It is an art, it’s not always easy but it is a great profession!
Thank you,

Sal 8:55 AM 3/31/10

I teach my daughter physics and calculus as a parent.  Often when I am sure she has understood the concepts, I find that she answers questions incorrectly in her tests. She often makes the same mistakes again and again (e.g. forgetting to write units). What can I do to improve my teaching skills and how do I deterrmine that she has really understood the subject matter.

Sharon 9:04 AM 3/31/10

The teacher does not have to leave the classroom to model the residency program. That is too expensive. The doctors don’t leave the hospital, they are still in the hospital working. What they do is call or meet with their mentor/staff physician and tell him or her what his going on and what they did for a particular patient and the mentor/staff will advice them or correct the decision making. So if the teachers are going to model this they need to get it right and save money.

J. 9:10 AM 3/31/10

So happy to hear the Cleveland State Pre-service Teacher Educator call in and describe her classroom management skill building program.  This can only be an improvement for the Cleveland State program.  When I attempted to get teacher certification at Cleveland State Univeristy there was only one project in one class that dealt with teaching.  In that single one-time assignment we had to present a lesson to our fellow CSU students but that was it.  That was all in the the many quarter hours of education classes I took.

With that little bit of practical expericence I was sent to student teaching at South High School where the expectation was that I would take over a 2 hour class so the supervising teacher could go off to the departmental office and get on the phone and play the stock market as the departmental head who had been his supervising teacher had done (and was doing with his current student teacher). 

Most of my supervising teacher’s job, when he did teach, (and he was good), seemed to be managing/settling the lives of his students to a point where he could slip in maybe 7 minutes of instruction in a 40 or 50 minute class period.  The girls were all a titter with their dating and relationship problems and the boys had some of that going on but also concerns about survival on the streets and had to be talked to about the upcoming school sports and major league sports events.  His after-school duties of coaching and club mentoring seemed to be more inportant to the job.

Connie Plavcan 9:23 AM 3/31/10

You are overlooking a wonderful source of master teachers-retired teachers. I am a retired teacher still actively involved in education through volunteer work and substitute teaching. I would love to work with new teachers coming into the profession. School systems could probably hire 2 or 3 retired teachers for the price of a current teacher to serve as mentors. I think I can speak for many of my fellow retired teachers in saying that we would love to be able to use our skills to continue our careers as mentors to beginning teachers.

Sr. Beverly Anne LoGrasso 10:59 AM 3/31/10

Dear Dan,
I love your show! I was in teaching/admin for 25 years and wanted to congratulate you for the show.
I appreciated everything that was sad. I want to underscore learning from students. I did evaluations every semester and learned more from students than supervisors about how to be a better teacher. I also appreciated the efforts to get teachers out of isolation and in interaction with peers. Most importantly, students need a relationship with their teachers. I believe this is partly why urban ed is so tough. Teachers need to understand the culture and challenges their students are facing to relate well. Thank you for the show; no more important topic. Keep up your good work!

Joan 7:07 AM 4/1/10

Can good teaching be learned and taught?

I read and appreciated Elizabeth Green’s article and enjoyed today’s program (despite not getting to contribute on the phone). I agreed with much/all that was said, but wish I could have given the perspective of someone who is trained to teach in the early grades (quite a different sort of challenge than middle school and above). I received excellent training and would also have loved to talk about that so I’ll share what I can here.

My training:

I have a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago and a Master of Arts in Teaching in Early Childhood Education from the Eliot-Pearson Dept. of Child Development at Tufts University (trained to care for children from birth to age 8/3rd grade). From the very beginning at Eliot-Pearson, observing teachers and classrooms was central to our training. We had the opportunity to do this at the lab school attached to our department, but also went to schools throughout the Boston area. We discussed and wrote about our observations. We were also provided opportunities to be in classrooms early on. We kept a journal that we shared and discussed with our professor.

Our department was quite selective in choosing the classrooms(mentor teachers) in which we were placed for our student teaching experience. We were observed regularly by our advisor and were given much feedback by our advisor and mentor teacher. We had to watch and analyze videotapes of ourselves leading a group time, etc.

It was rigorous, stimulating and inspiring.

My background:

I taught kindergarten for ten years in a private setting as a team leader and with many student teachers from various teacher training programs in the Chicago area. For four semesters, I served as adjunct faculty in early childhood education at a community college (upon observing my teaching, the early childhood education chairs of two programs, including National Louis University asked me to be adjunct faculty). Whenever I had a student who needed help, I was able to call on a psychologist to come observe me and provide me with feedback about how I could improve my teaching to help that child. It was immensely helpful to me and my students. I welcomed this feedback.

I then went to teach Head Start in the Chicago Public Schools (1 year), was downsized and then was hired for an new early childhood education center on the north side of Chicago (to demonstrate the best in early childhood practices in the Chicago Public Schools). I worked there for 1 year (3 months in children’s homes as they worked to find/prepare space for us) before moving to Cleveland.

When I joined Head Start, I was a seasoned and respected teacher. Even so, in many ways, I felt like I’d never taught before. I begged for help from early on (wanting someone to come observe me and make suggestions). Many of my students were needy and/or traumatized and many didn’t know how to play (you can’t learn if you don’t know how to play). It was a challenge but we made progress through the year. It was the hardest year of teaching by far. I needed another adult in the classroom and I needed someone to observe and support me (I had an assistant but we really needed 3 adults). My students needed help from psychologists also – which I sought but wasn’t available to the degree it should have been.

My thoughts:

I think there is something to be said for a more narrow focus of training (e.g. birth to age 8) and an emphasis on understanding the stages of child development, how children learn most effectively at different ages, etc.

I never felt I perfected kindergarten. There are teachers who are moved around from grade to grade from year to year. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. Perhaps some people like that, but I think specialization can be a good thing for many of us.

I sought and received support from my local professional organization and a sub-committee within it – the Chicago Metropolitan Association for the Education of Young Children and its Kindergarten and Primary Commission (we supported good teaching practices in the early grades).

Teaching in the early grades involves knowing how to set up a classroom environment conducive to learning and classroom management of a different nature than in higher grades (e.g., if a teacher uses learning centers, he/she needs the children to be able to navigate independently and successfully through these). He/she needs to work out how to implement individual, small-group and whole-group lessons that are meaningful and engaging to the students. This is difficult and definitely not always a focus in training programs.

In the early grades, you have the chance to turn children on to learning. If you don’t, that can make it more challenging for the students and their teachers down the line.

On Teach for America: I think these young people should be assistants to a mentor teacher in their first year. I think it’s far too much to expect that they teach and train simultaneously.

I have a friend (from grad school) who was a mentor in the Seattle system for 3 years. Just as she mastered that job, she was no longer able to be a mentor. That seems silly.

While I think teachers can make a difference and we need to help all to be better, I also think family background and the early years (birth to age 5) are critical. We need to do better for all children in the early years if we want to even out the achievement gap. I have ideas/questions about this I’d love to put to you if you’re interested.

Thanks for the great work you do.

Joan Spoerl
Cleveland Heights

J.P. 7:08 AM 4/1/10

Hello, I was watching (a possible re-broadcast?) your show (Sound Of Ideas) earlier this evening on the Ohio Channel where you were asking teachers to call in, and I wanted to make a few comments.

I’m not a teacher, but think ideas from a student’s perspective (long since graduated, and now working as a chemist for 15 years) might be helpful here too:

It seems that a lot of times teachers don’t use all the available tools to help their students succeed.
Mathematics can be a very difficult subject, but there is a professor (Dr. Michael Beeson from University of California, San Jose, Professor of mathematics and computer science) that wrote a software program that explores many math topics (from algebra through the equivilant of a full year of college calculus).  He claims that the software is so good, that a person using it CANNOT make a mistake while they are working out problems in it.  It has thousands of problems on the various topics covered, and in addition, a person can enter their own problems as well.  It has a full graphing suite, and is actually quite amazing.  Why aren’t the schools buying this software en mass, and using it in their curriculums to teach kids?  It is called MathXPert. (Here’s a link: ).  [Disclaimer: I am NOT affiliated with MathXPert, though I have used the software and think it is great.] This software helped me a lot, and I know it can help students all over Ohio a lot too.

When I first started school (University of Maine), they had a distance-learning program, and so would videotape all sessions of the distance-learning sections.  If a person were taking that particular class (it didn’t have to be in that section, or even a distance section), they could borrow a video from the library to go over the material again.  It was invaluable for gaining another perspective on the class material, especially in mathematics.  Why aren’t we using this technique to our advantage more ubiquitously?  Video and DVD are both cheap.  It would be very easy to record classes (and it has the added advantage of allowing random auditing of classes and providing a more realistic classroom for the auditor to see).

There is also another (though FREE) piece of software out there called MemoryLifter, which follows the Sebastian Leitner box theory for memorization (  It is an electronic flashcard system that students/ teachers can use for entering topic material to be learned (you add your own questions, pictures, sound recordings, etc.).  Teachers could use this in making the learning process for students very easy. In fact, teachers could collaborate across the school system to put together an information bank to actually make their teaching job itself much easier!  Why isn’t something like that being done now? [Disclaimer: I am NOT affiliated with MemoryLifter, but have used their software, and think it has amazing possibilities if used effectively.]

Education should be a process where teachers facilitate their students in ‘connecting the dots’ as it were between various pieces of information (much as a roadmap connects various cities).  It should not be a process where the ‘dots’ are only connected via a ‘drop in’ approach (much as an airplane ‘hops’ from one city to another) but are otherwise completely unconnected.  It seems like we don’t do a good job of bringing the pieces of information together in our schools, and that may be one of the reasons our students are not as successful as they could be.  We should use technology more effectively to remedy this.  Let’s use the technology available to facilitate the successes of our students, and make them first-rate in this state, in this country, and throughout the world!

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this.

Mr. J.P. Brooke

Brad 7:10 AM 4/1/10

There really needs to be a discussion on the need to ensure high quality pre-service teachers are admitted into teacher education programs.  We are entrusting these people with our most precious resource, our children.  Do we really want to allow everyone that wants to be a teacher that opportunity?  In my view, teacher education programs serve an essential gate-keeping function.

Also, what about the mad rush to get those college students considering an education major into schools ASAP.  At Hiram, we’ve noticed that more and more schools are taking a conservative approach in allowing college students the opportunity to teach alongside classroom teachers.  With NLCB and schools, teachers, and students being held accountable for high test scores, many schools are hesitant to let college students teach inside regular education classrooms.  There’s this fear that this instruction from a college students won’t be as good, and thus hurt student performance.  The fact is the stakes are so high.

Great conversation you’re having,


Marianne 7:11 AM 4/1/10

What I found as a student was that the best teachers were often people who had themselves struggled as students.  This was true especially in math.  I struggled with math concepts - the “smart” teachers would just lay out the proofs on the board and if you didn’t “get” it, that was just too bad.  They didn’t understand that not everyone had the light bulb go on the first time.

My seventh grade math teacher (who told us how hard school was for
him) would see those blank stares, clean off the blackboard, and start again with another way of explaining - and then another - and then another if necessary.  His genius was that he understood that we all learned in different ways, and he was willing to take the time to teach in all those different ways and not make us feel dumb for not understanding the first time.

Without that support, I would have given up on math.



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