A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a conversation between the missus, a former elementary school teacher and education consultant, and a couple of her teacher friends. They were talking about good teachers, bad teachers, and the differences between them. For once, I just shut up and listened–they brought up a lot of interesting observations of their peers that help them make a quick judgments about the effectiveness of the teacher. There were a few that I thought were really interesting and could help parents when they head out to open house or when visiting the school.
1. Where is the teacher’s desk located in the classroom?
If the teacher’s desk is located in the back or on the side of the classroom, this is an excellent sign. This means that your child’s teacher most likely spends most of his instructional time standing and moving around the classroom, which helps hold the kids’ interest and helps the teacher interact better with all of the kids, not just the ones up front. If the desk is located in the front of the room, check to see if it looks “lived in”. The best sign is if the teacher doesn’t have a desk at all, or if it is located in an office separated from the classroom.
2. Are the kids’ desks in rows, or are they in groups, a circle, or some other configuration?
Rows may be fine for older kids, but in the younger grades U-shaped or grouped desks help the kids better interact with the teacher and one another. If your child always has an unobstructed and close view of the teacher during instructional time, chances are better that he’ll be paying attention. These configurations also allow the teacher to more easily keep tabs on what each student is doing and pick up on important physical cues as to whether or not the kids are absorbing the lesson. The ability to interact with other students fosters cooperative learning. Kids often learn things from one another that they don’t learn from the teacher.
3. What activities does your child do for homework?
Most of us grew up copying each vocabulary and/or spelling word three times or copying the definition from the book. The latest research has shown that while wrote memorization is a valuable component to learning when used in conjunction with other activities that reinforce understanding, it is at best marginally effective when used by itself. Words need to be made meaningful to the child in order for them to internalize them. If these are the only activities your child is given for homework, her teacher may be a little “old school”. He may not be up to date on the latest research, or may just be ignoring it altogether.
4. Are the materials on the wall functional, or just pretty?
Motivational posters from Wal-Mart are nice, but the classroom walls are best used by good teachers to reinforce what is being taught in the curriculum. Another positive sign is an abundance of materials made by the teacher and/or the students themselves.
5. What does the class look like when walking down the halls
Is the teacher a “mama duck”–heading up the line down the hallway while a chaotic mass follows her? Is he a “shusher”–constantly having to remind the kids to be quiet while they walk? Both of these are strong indicators of teachers who may lack discipline and control in the classroom. If the teacher really has control and respect in the classroom, that will carry over with her kids outside the classroom. The best teachers walk in the middle, beside the line. At corners, they stand at the apex so that they can view both the front and back of the line.
These tips are just a few starting points to help you get a feel for your child’s teacher, but just because your child’s teacher doesn’t meet every point outlined here doesn’t mean she is a bad teacher. Of course, you will learn much more by meeting with the teacher face to face and asking specific questions about your concerns for your child. Hopefully the tips covered here will give you some ideas about what questions you may need to ask.