What Do pupils think Makes a Good teacher?
An illuminating source of information on effective teaching lies in asking the beneficiaries. What is again striking about the different studies that have been carried out into pupils’ perspectives on their teachers, is the degree of consistency in the main findings over decades.As long ago as the early 1960s, one researcher asked over 800 children in primary schools and more than 500 secondary school pupils to write about ‘a good teacher’ and ‘a poor teacher’. The good teacher was typically described as one who:
- is firm and keeps order in the classroom;
- explains the work you have to do and helps you with it;
- is friendly with children in and out of school.
(Taylor, 1962, summarised in Kyriacou, 1997, p10) The three key themes of order, learning and positive social relationships reappear in one guise or another in study after study. Brown and McIntyre (1993) enquired into secondary pupils’ ideas of their ‘best teachers’ and what characteristics they showed. They reported these positive characteristics as falling into ten categories.
Ten categories of ‘best’ teacher characteristics
- Creation of a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere in the classroom.
- Retention of control in the classroom.
- Presentation of work in a way that interests and motivates pupils.
- Providing conditions so pupils understand the work.
- Making clear what pupils are to do and achieve.
- Judging what can be expected of a pupil.
- Helping pupils with difficulties.
- Encouraging pupils to raise their expectations of themselves.
- Developing personal, mature relationships with pupils.
- Teachers’ personal talents (subject-related or other) utilised.
(Brown and McIntyre, 1993, pp28–29) Another extensive study of pupils’ perspectives on secondary schools (Rudduck et al., 1996) reported on how pupils experienced school life. One finding was that pupils preferred teachers who set clear expectations for work and behaviour, but who did so in the context of relationships that respected the pupils. They drew four broad conclusions about what pupils valued in terms of effective teaching.
- lessons that are well-prepared and are seen to be well-prepared, so that pupils know they have learned something, and can see that their teachers have put effort into preparing the lesson for them;
- lessons that have a clear focus, and a content that finds some way of engaging with pupils’ everyday experiences;
- lessons that have some variety of pace and activity (including opportunities for practical and/or interactive work); it may be useful to think of lessons as needing a strong sense of ‘form'(an important but elusive word that suggests an appropriate matching of content, style and sequencing); they need to be well-structured, without waste of time but with passages of intense focus balanced by well-controlled and clearly signalled moments of respite;
- signals to pupils that the teacher enjoys teaching the subject and enjoys teaching them.
(Rudduck et al., 1996, p176)