Teaching Teachers

By: Karen Lurie
By: Karen Lurie

Right now, lots of teachers are in summer school to get better at what they do. What exactly makes a teacher "good"? Education researchers have found out recently.

Jessica Heller is a master teacher of the sixth grade at Lawrence Intermediate School in New Jersey. She has 15 years experience, but once she had a problem common: too many elementary school teachers.

"I don't have any science background," said Heller. "I learned from a textbook; I taught from a textbook."

Teachers' struggles are one reason why education researchers want to measure the qualities that make a good teacher.

"Teacher quality is the single most important factor in improving student performance," said University of Maryland education policy researcher Jennifer King Rice.

She analyzed nearly 80 different studies on teacher quality for the Economic Policy Institute. Her report pinpointed five key measures of teacher quality: experience, training, credentials, knowledge of subject and teaching skill.

Researchers still don't know how completely each of these measures contributes to student learning, but they are finding that teaching skill is crucial. For example, they've found that students score higher on standardized math tests if their teachers know how to teach math.

"It's not simply enough to know the subject. They need to know how to teach that subject to their students," said Rice.

Researchers have yet to define exactly what teaching skill is. They only know that good teachers have it and can help other teachers get more.

Heller improved her science teaching by seeking expert help. Now she teaches from science kits, which seem to help her kids learn. Heller works with other teachers and scientists to help more elementary school teachers teach the way she does.

Rice says that teachers need tips on teaching at all stages of their careers, not just in their early years.

To find out more, visit www.sciencentral.com.


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