This is one for Teach Secondary Magazine who, in what can only be described as publishing harakiri, continue to chuck my two pennies’ worth into their magazine alongside some actual useful stuff about secondary teaching. Go to to subscribe. Go on. 

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Sometimes people ask me what I think it takes to be a good teacher. Usually I just point to my face and say ‘this’ with a look so smug, even I want to do me serious injury.

It’s only to hide the fact that, when it comes down to it, I haven’t got the first clue as to what it takes to be a good teacher and there’s no way I’m going to start admitting that to people (well, the people who aren’t reading this, anyway. I really haven’t thought this through at all) as it might get to the kids. If it gets to the kids that I’m not omniscient, that’s me done for.      

Don’t get me wrong; I think I’m completely and utterly ace but I’m not fully confident I could spot a good teacher if one came along and smacked me topside of the head with a mini whiteboard and, to be perfectly honest, I distrust those that think they can (especially after something as hugely arbitrary as observing an hour’s lesson.) But let us not delve into the muddy waters of things so patently ludicrous as those types of judgements, otherwise this writer would subject you to a page’s worth of barely coherent ranting. Let’s not look at ‘good’ though the warped filter of a sheet with boxes on it that need ticking. Let’s consider it in a purer form.

Everyone has their own idea on what a ‘good’ teacher does and what it looks like. For some it’s about classroom relationships, for others it’s about a standard of discipline leading to an environment where learning can take place. It’s about standing at the front and engaging them with the things that you know or it’s about letting the kids lead their own learning. It’s about a good seating plan. How much you do or do not smile. Authenticity. Performance. Handwriting. Wordprocessing. Assessment. Glitter pens. What on earth? Where is…what? Where? Who?

Confusing isn’t it? There are so many variables. Some people see good in a smile. Some people see good in a set of results. Some people see good in silence and some people see good in the noisy rush of ideas. Who’s right?

Like I said, I haven’t the foggiest. But here’s what I believe:

If there was a magic formula for ‘good’ teaching we’d all gulping down pints of the stuff, right? Perhaps, unless we didn’t like the way it tasted.  Personally, I suspect that whether you think someone is a good teacher or not is mostly down to personal preference or (in the more scarily extreme cases) ideology. I think we are often blinkered by our own experiences of school, whether they be positive or negative. I think there’s no secret to being a good teacher because good mostly depends on where you are teaching and who you have in front of you.

So when someone asks me what I think it takes to be a good teacher, maybe I should shoot a couple of questions straight back at them like: “Where?” “With who?” because I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a fair bit more because I like the sound of it and big words give people the impression that I know what I’m talking about – there is no homogeneity in teaching. There are similarities, obviously, and we can work on being the best we can be in reference to them but that’s just about all we can do. The landscape of our job is absolutely vast and what gets me through the day might lead you to disaster and the same might happen if we switch it round.  

So perhaps being a good teacher doesn’t mean following a set of ideals at all. Perhaps it means having a willingness to adapt to the given situation, to put biases to one side and consider all the options instead of steadfastly sticking to something. Maybe a good teacher is an adaptable teacher. Maybe not. Like I keep telling you – I’m pretty clueless.

So I’ll just carry on answering the question by pointing to my own gorgeous visage because I don’t know. And that’s OK.

Just don’t tell anyone else.

Thanks for reading.



  1. jillberry102

    Interesting, Tom! I think you know I’ve just completed (almost!) a professional doctorate researching the transition to headship. A striking comment from one of my participants was: ‘Perhaps that’s what being a good head is all about – being able to adapt?’ So I’d suggest this may be true of leaders at all levels in schools as well as teachers.

    Hope all is well with you – that you and the family have had a great Christmas and that 2016 is a very positive year for you all.

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