Steps to becoming a good teacher

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Good teaching is more than just knowing the curriculum and knowing how to explain it to students, says UIC professor Eleni Katsarou. It also requires some hard-to-measure skills, such as the willingness to take risks.

But when Katsarou tried to explain that to her students, it was like she was speaking a foreign language.

“I’d tell them that they needed to be culturally responsible, and they didn’t know what I was talking about,” Katsarou explains. “I was speaking in vague terms.”

To get across the concepts in concrete terms, she created an assessment tool three years ago that lists specific steps student teachers can take to develop the personal qualities and behavior of good teachers. In February, Katsarou received a best practice award from the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. She is working on a book on the assessment and is in the process of getting it copyrighted.

The tool is divided into six categories: cultural and contextual understanding; adaptation and flexibility; initiative and risk taking; resourcefulness and organizational development; dedication and personal investment; and awareness and thoughtfulness in lesson delivery.

Each category includes specific actions student teachers can take to demonstrate they have done some work to develop these qualities.

For instance, “initiative and risk taking” is defined as seeking opportunities to get involved and implement ideas, says Katsarou. That might mean a student teacher approaches parents and becomes part of a parent-teacher conference without being asked by the supervising teacher.

Students can demonstrate “dedication and personal investment” by spending more time in the school than is required, or by volunteering to tutor students after school.

“These are all things they need to do to be good teachers,” says Katsarou. The actions can also be measured and assessed.

The tool is used by students and the supervising teacher, “so they can hold real conversations about what students need to do in their student teaching,” says Katsarou. “And this gives me a sense of what they have been doing in order to be caring, ethical people.” The rubric is used in two formal discussions, once during the 6th week of the semester and again in the 12th week.

“The teacher may say, “I’ve seen you do this, but I haven’t seen you talk to any parents,” and they have time to work on this skill,” says Katsarou.

Student teachers who demonstrate little commitment to developing these skills are counseled to consider a career outside the classroom.

“We tell them, “This may not be for you.” The teachers of yesteryear are not the same teachers we want today,” Katsarou says.

This year for the first time, UIC graduates who used the rubric when they student-taught and are now in the classroom, are mentoring student teachers and helping them use it, too.

“This is wonderful,” Katsarou says. “They understand our mission. They have gone through it and they have the skills to mentor.”