Making An A+ Teacher

Over the last two years, thousands of teachers across the country were issued pink slips amid state budget cuts and fierce political battles over testing scores and teaching effectiveness.

But the impact teachers have on individual student achievement is now thought to be one of the most important factors in student learning. A good teacher can provide the educational foundation for a student, introducing them to the intricacies of the world through history, science, language arts and math. A great teacher can inspire students in life-changing ways.

So what makes a great teacher great?

During the week of May 23, WBUR broadcasts a series exploring how teacher salary, training, personality and evaluations can play a role in making a great teacher.

We hear from students, teachers and others — including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — about the qualities that distinguish a great teacher from all the rest.

Friday, May 27

‘Compensate Debate’ Could Follow New Teacher Evaluations
A district-by-district comparison of average teacher salaries for K-12 schools in Massachusetts.

Teachers’ salaries are not linked to their performance; they are linked to how long they’ve been on the job and their level of education. But would higher paid teachers make a difference in education?

Education Commissioner: You Can’t Divorce Test Scores And Teacher Effectiveness
Massachusetts Education Commission Mitchell Chester (AP)

To wrap our series, we asked Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester about proposed new teacher evaluation regulations and whether evaluations should be linked to student test scores.

Thursday, May 26

Video: Special Discussion: Is Good Teaching Teachable?

As part of our week-long series, WBUR hosted a live panel discussion at our Boston studios. The topic: is good teaching teachable? You can watch the video here.

Teachers Eye Coaches, Collaboration To Improve Their Teaching

Are great teachers born with the gift, or can we teach great teaching? We hear about strategies some experts use to hone the teaching craft.

In Teacher Evaluations, Students Seek Their Say

The Boston Student Advisory Council is lobbying to make student feedback part of the teacher evaluation process.

Conversation: Wall Street No Preparation To Manage A Classroom

Radio Boston: Charter School Founder Says Good Teachers Can Be Taught

Wednesday, May 25

Despite Bad Grades, Many Boston Teachers Stay In Class

In our series, we’ve been examining what makes a teacher good. But what about bad teachers? Unfortunately some failing teachers are left in the classroom, especially in Boston Public Schools.

Conversation: Problem Students Can Hold The Class Back

Aspiring Educator Learns Nothing Prepares You For Teaching Like Teaching
Student teacher Christine Dunn (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

Christine Dunn is one of the educators of the future. And she’s finding out that once you have a classroom of your own, all that academic theory can quickly go out the window.

Tuesday, May 24

Uncertain Test Score Evaluation System Worries Teachers

Over the next three years the Massachusetts’ teacher evaluation system will change significantly. The most controversial element requires using student test scores to rate teachers.

One Town Says MCAS Is Misguided In Evaluating Teachers

The state Board of Education has decided that student performance on the MCAS has to be a significant component of how teachers are evaluated. The town of Hingham is not happy about the news.

Monday, May 23

What Makes A Good Teacher?

More and more research shows that teacher quality is the most important factor in learning. But what makes a good teacher? A good teacher has to be a social worker, a manager and an instructor.

Chalk Talk: What Makes A Great Teacher?

We hear from teachers, students and others — including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — about the qualities they say reign supreme when it comes to the makings of a phenomenal teacher.

Interactive Map: Mass. Teacher Salaries; Per Pupil Expenditures; MCAS Scores

This interactive map shows a district-by-district comparison of average teacher salaries, per pupil expenditures and MCAS scores for K-12 schools in Massachusetts.

Conversation: Teach For America Studies What Makes Great Teachers Great

Radio Boston Talker: Examining Great Educators

WBUR News Director Martha Little was the series editor. WBUR’s Bob Oakes and Sacha Pfeiffer were the series hosts. WBUR’s Deborah Becker and Monica Brady-Myerov were the senior producers. WBUR’s Dave Shaw and Lisa Tobin and Jason Breslow and Lynn Jolicoeur were the producers. WBUR’s Michael Garth, George Hicks, Mike Toda and Missy Webb were the engineers. WBUR’s Deborah Becker, Monica Brady-Myerov, Bob Oakes, Sacha Pfeiffer, Fred Thys and Bianca Vazquez Toness reported. WBUR’s John Davidow was the senior Web editor. WBUR’s Jesse Costa, Keosha Johnson, Will Smith and Benjamin Swasey and Jeremy Bernfeld were the Web producers. WBUR’s Wendy Schwartz and Kristen Holgerson produced the on-air promotions.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Steven Levy

     You have left out the most important problem: behavior students. If a great teacher has students with behavior problems, that teacher will be a “bad” teacher. Behavior students are very needy. They cannot function in a classroom with more than 8 students. I know, I tried. 

    Blaming the employee is considered in most other industries a sign of ineffective management. Most schools are managed poorly. Look at the classroom. It has not changed in 100 years. Name any industry that is that unwilling to accept new ideas! Well, medicine, but I rest my case.

    The blame rests with the school committees and eventually the voters. What makes a good school? Involved parents.  If you want better education, educate the parents to get involved.

    • AC

      I agree that having a small student to teacher ratio is important.  I work with at risk students ( students with a history of failing classes, being disengaged, and/or disruptive ).  I work with these students in a small group setting.  I, too, have found that having more that 7 or 8 students starts affecting my ability to teach effectively and, more importantly, my students’ ability to learn.


  • Jeff in west bend

    I don’t believe you can make an A+ teacher.  I believe it is an innate qualtiy and/or ability – much like what makes a good parent or possibly even a good sales person.  I have been told numerous times from sales managers that you can teach someone about a product, but you cannot teach someone to ‘sell’.

    I know many people who have ‘mastered’  math and science and for whom subjects like calculus are trivial, but ask them to explain the concept of velocity in simplistic terms as needed for novices, and they talk themselves into a corner of confusion.

    You will find that a really good teacher has had a ‘calling’ to teach; similar to what drives someone to any ministry.  The others can probably be improved, but it would be faster and less expensive to weed them out.  Then concentrate on identifying and training the ones that have the qualities to be an A+teacher.

    The other side is how to keep the good teachers and not allow the problems and politics to burn them out.
    We may seriously need to consider tying  familial social services such as welfare/food stamps  to student attendance, behavior, and minimal learning improvements.  Certain students get ‘paid’ to attend college, maybe it’s time to ‘pay’ certain students to attend middle school and high school.

    • Hardin Coleman

      The pay for school attempt in NYC failed miserably.  Research is consistently demonstrating the key is a highly effective teacher who creates an engaging academic experience while supporting the social development of the student is the most important factor.  Certainly great teachers possess a disposition of caring and self reflection, but there is a technology of teaching (assessment, lesson planning, differentiation of instruction and more) that has to be learned in order to be effective.

  • Donia

    I am an experienced teacher with Medical Degree, Master Degree, and also license for Health teacher, Science Teacher, and Behavior Specialist.  My background is rich with successful experiences and education awards.  Sadly, since moving to Massachusetts on 2005, I have not found a teaching job, and so I have been working as a teachers Aide.  Every student that I have worked with has become successful.  However I was told that I would not have a job in coming year.  We talk about finding capable teachers and helping students, but in reality choosing teachers have become ‘business’ and “personal favors’ — with deep sadness and dismay! 

  • Matthew Meneghini

    RE:  poverty.  Education is a major factor in overcoming poverty.  For the unions to punt on their record by saying that problems will always exist is simply dodging the issue and forsaking the next generation.  Just because it is harder to educate poorer people doesn’t excuse the same tired strategy and the same weak results.

  • Amy

    I was extremely disappointed by yesterday’s segment regarding “bad” teachers.  As in most things, “bad” frequently is in the eye of the beholder.  The challenges we have in our public school system have very little to do with the quality of the teaching and very much to do with the absurd funding formulas that put the financial burden of meeting state and federal mandates on the localities, with little or no support to meet those mandates.

  • Data person

    I’ve listened all week to this pretty interesting discussion. However, when the topic of  using MCAS to evaluate teachers came up it was always misrepresented. DESE is not proposing to use the scores themselves – something which the teachers always claim – they are planning on using the Student Growth Percentiles, a very fair metric. A student cohort group is formed students statewide who for the two previous years scored identically on the MCAS (ELA or Math). Each student is then compared to how they performed in the next year relative the their cohort. A score of 50 means that 50% of students did better and 50% did worse. The growth percentiles are the proposed metric – completely independent of the score itself. I know thi is a hard concept to prresent which is why WBUR chose to simplify the topic, however incorrectly.  

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