Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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Take six of the best and learn to be a great teacher

Published By: The Times Educational Supplement - 31 Aug 2007

Do you know what makes a great teacher? I do. How? By reading through all the judges' reports on the 70-odd winners of this year's Teaching Awards. It's an amazingly detailed archive of how outstanding teachers work.

At first glance all these inspiring winners seem to be larger-than-life characters with little in common except an unstoppable enthusiasm. How can a rigorous old-time maths teacher possibly go about things in the same way as a motherly special needs tutor, or an exuberant primary singing supremo? But read on, and it quickly becomes apparent that, despite these surface differences, all great teachers go about their jobs in exactly same way.

So here, from a unique national database of classroom observations, are six top tips for how to become a really great teacher.

1. Like children. In fact, really, really, really like children.

Find them funny, fascinating, touching and rewarding and even if they are difficult, be tolerant and understanding towards those difficulties. Start to tell people rather irritatingly that you always learn more from the children than they learn from you.

2. Respect children and expect great things from them.

Treat them as you would want to be treated yourself. Encourage them to aim higher and be relentlessly positive in pursuit of that. Make your lessons lively and interesting. Expect good behaviour and be deeply disappointed whenever you don't get it.

Expect that your pupils will come to love you for these qualities of firmness and fairness and maybe one day will nominate you for a teaching award, citing the way you always make them think and work hard.

3. Don't adhere slavishly to the national curriculum.

Know all about the hoops your pupils are expected to jump through and help them get good results in tests and exams, but never teach to the test. Make clear to your pupils that these are things dreamed up by people in offices and nothing to do with what real learning is all about. Plough your own furrow in showing them what this looks like, taking exhilarating risks and wonderful leaps of faith along the way.

4. Have a passion. Be infused with enthusiasm for whatever it is you are doing and always see the possibilities inherent in it.

Whether you are an enterprise teacher inspiring children to set up their own businesses or a reception class teacher determined that every child will get the best possible start in life, make sure your passion rubs off on your pupils. Be aware that this will change their lives and half a century later some of them may write in spidery handwriting to tell you so.

5. Be organised. Know exactly what you are trying to do and then put in place those things you need to help you do it.

Make an effort to understand assessment data and use it assiduously. Work closely with colleagues, build good relations with parents, plan efficiently, seize opportunities and think outside of the box. At the same time, make light of all this effort and appear like a swan, effortlessly gliding over the water even though your feet are paddling furiously.

6. Have a laugh. Never take yourself or anyone else too seriously.

Dress up for school pantomimes or perform rap routines to din history facts into your pupils' heads. Even if you are not a screaming extrovert, volunteer to have wet sponges thrown at you during the school fete or sign up for the Year 7 camping trip.

Be warm, connected, smiling and engaged, enjoying the company of colleagues and relishing the shared bond of a worthwhile purpose. Never, repeat never, work such long hours that you feel you do not have a life. And know that although you will often be tired to the bone, you are highly unlikely to be stressed. You will be having far too much fun for that!