The non-profit organisation Teach For America has, for two decades, been tracking huge amounts of data on its thousands of teachers and the results they get from their students. By mining the data, testing hypotheses and refining hiring and training practises constantly, the organisation says it is now starting to create a reliable profile of a successful teacher.
For years, Teach for America selected for something called “constant learning.” As [Steven Farr, head of training and support,]Â and others had noticed, great teachers tended to reflect on their performance and adapt accordingly. So people who tend to be self-aware might be a good bet. [â€¦]
But in 2003, the admissions staff looked at the data and discovered that reflectiveness did not seem to matter either. Or more accurately, trying to predict reflectiveness in the hiring process did not work.Â [â€¦]
The results are specific and surprising. Things that you might think would help a new teacher achieve success in a poor schoolâ€”like prior experience working in a low-income neighborhoodâ€”don’t seem to matter. Other things that may sound triflingâ€”like a teacher’s extracurricular accomplishments in collegeâ€”tend to predict greatness.
Other factors that indicate whether a prospect would likely become an excellent teacher:
- A modicum of knowledge on a subject (Bachelor’s-level study predicts better results in the classroom, whereas a Master’s in Education has no impact).
- Constantly re-evaluation.
- Avid recruitment of students and their families into the process.
- Ensuring that everything contributes to student learning (maintaining focus).
- Exhaustive, purposeful planningâ€”for the next day or the year aheadâ€”by working backward from the desired outcome.
- Relentless work ethic (“refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls”).
- A track record, rather than just an attitude, of perseverance.
- The best indicator: a measurable past performance ofÂ achievementÂ (GPA and “leadershipÂ achievement” specifically).
Update: Cedar Riener points to a short video (3m 44s) created by his colleague, Dan Willingham, on why merit pay based on test scores is a bad idea: “there is not a way to evaluate teachers fairly by using test scores”.