What Should Teachers Know and be Able to Do

Though we all should have an opportunity to become what we want, that does not mean we could or would do a good job at all things. Not everyone who wants to become a teacher is well suited for teaching. Many people aspire to be teachers, but only those who meet the standards set by the society, profession and state should be allowed to teach.

How do we honestly, fairly and helpfully evaluate teachers? First, we might start with determining that they can perform the necessary duties of teaching to an acceptable degree. Evaluation of teachers is a normative and relative activity. The quality of a teacher depends on the circle of comparison—how does this teacher compare with other teachers in this grade, school, district and region and are there others who could do a better job?

Before we accept the complaints about teacher education programs having low quality or low standards, or being too theoretical or too removed from the day-to-day realities of the classroom, let us examine what a current teacher education program requires of its candidates to be recommended for certification. What are the requirement to become a teacher and how can teacher education programs develop and assess those expectations to determine that their teacher candidates know how and are able to be effective in a classroom?

Scriven identified five categories of the duties of the teacher: 1) knowledge base, 2) instructional competence, 3) assessment competence, 4) professionalism and 5) other services to the school and community (1994). He considered these duties “the only legitimate basis for teacher evaluation” (1993, p. 4). They can serve as a reasonable rubric for evaluating teacher candidates and teachers (Clarken, 1993a, 1993b). All of these duties can be measured, and standards can be set to determine if they are adequately met.

Other models of teacher evaluation, which have been discussed elsewhere in this book, place too much emphasis on factors beyond the control of teachers and use faulty premises and methodology. Scriven, Wheeler, and Haertel found many problems with accepted approaches to teacher evaluation that were “multiple and serious” (1993, p. 7). These included that they are based upon a limited view of the teacher’s tasks, limited and atypical observations, too much weight on the way of teaching, too little on the content and effect of teaching and the faulty use of indicators based upon statistical conclusions.

All teachers have a duty to possess and demonstrate a satisfactory level of general and content specific knowledge. To be a teacher requires general intelligence and an appreciation of its value for students and society. In addition, teachers should understand the subject matter they are to teach and be able to demonstrate an ability to teach it effectively to a broad range of students. Standards of knowledge attainment should be required before students are allowed to enter into teacher education programs, and they should achieve higher levels as they progress through the different stages of preparation for teaching.

Teachers must be able to manage student behavior and learning effectively. To help deal with classroom behavior, they need effective communication and pedagogical skills. They must handle varying ability levels, activities, assignments, contingencies, emergencies and time competently. Educators should demonstrate the ability to use appropriate instructional techniques, technology and materials to develop students’ attitudes, skills and understanding according to their individual capacity.

Teachers should know and use appropriate, reliable and valid ways of determining the merit of a student’s learning and be able to report their assessments fairly, honestly and helpfully. They also need to be able to evaluate their own work and instructional methods and materials so they can make needed improvements.

One of the most important responsibilities of a teacher is to serve as a role model. The list of professional attitudes, virtues and attributes that a teacher should model are numerous, including open-mindedness, tolerance, courtesy, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, intelligence, uprightness and fairness. Developing these qualities is a life-long endeavor and should be included as part of ongoing teacher evaluation and professional development.

Teachers are also responsible for many other tasks that are part of running a school and being part of a community and institution. They need to know and follow necessary regulations, policies and procedures, and to work with and get along with others. If they cannot adequately perform any of the duties listed above, they should not be certified or allowed to teach in a school.

These duties are similar to the following aspects of effective teaching which are supported by research and incorporated into professional standards for teaching (Darling-Hammond, Amrein-Beardsley, Haertel, & Rothstein, 2012, p. 13).

• Understand subject matter deeply and flexibly;
• Connect what is to be learned to students’ prior knowledge and experience;
• Create effective scaffolds and supports for learning;
• Use instructional strategies that help students draw connections, apply what they’re learning, practice new skills, and monitor their own learning;
• Assess student learning continuously and adapt teaching to student needs;
• Provide clear standards, constant feedback, and opportunities for revising work; and
• Develop and effectively manage a collaborative classroom in which all students have membership (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005, cited in Darling-Hammond, Amrein-Beardsley, Haertel, & Rothstein, 2012, p. 13).

To evaluate the above, teacher candidates at my university are assessed on 78 professional standards for which they must demonstrate proficiency while teaching students in the grade level and subject area for which they are seeking certification. Throughout their teacher preparation program, they are guided and nurtured to master these skills and demonstrate proficiency in these standards. They do a self-assessment and are assessed by a master teacher and by a university supervisor independently (see https://aditweb.nmu.edu/education/evaluations/stuteach_final_eval.php for the online form they use and 78 standards for which they are assessed).

These assessments meet several professional standards for evaluation and for teaching. First, they align with the evaluation standards and principles set by the professional associations for personnel evaluation. Second, they are based on the real duties required and expected of a classroom teacher as identified by experts in evaluation. Thirdly, they include the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) vision of what is expected of accomplished teachers that was subsequently translated into standards for beginning teachers by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) and adopted by over 40 states for initial teacher licensing (Darling-Hammond, Amrein-Beardsley, Haertel, & Rothstein, 2012, p. 13).

For example, the Michigan Department of Education requires all teacher preparation institutions to use the state approved criteria for assessment of entry-level pedagogical skills for each student teacher, which are based on INTASC standards. My university incorporated the State Board of Education Entry Level Standards for Michigan Teachers, later replaced by the Professional Standards for Michigan Teachers (PSMT), into their evaluation of field experiences and student teachers.


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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