I have recently been involved in discussions about excellence in teaching and have wondered what it means to be excellent as a teacher. From what I have observed in discussions as well as in my context, the definitions and criteria that state what an effective teacher does depends on the circumstances they work, institutional or governmental aims and cultural aspects involved.

However, in general, some characteristics seem to converge, regardless of the contexts, goals or resources. Teachers who are most effective are those who manage to work so as students can shine and achieve their best. In practical terms, for lesson observations, a checklist may not be the most effective way to assess teachers if used isolated and without qualitative data about learners’ reactions and participation, for instance. On the other hand, focusing on isolated individual comments from students can shed light on certain aspects of the lesson, but fails to observe what experts might be able to see. At the same time, teachers themselves may build their ability to self-assess their lessons and become more aware of the impact of their teaching and what they can do to make it more consistent.

Assessment is a very common topic when dealing with learners’ progress. Nevertheless, when teachers go through assessments themselves, there seems to be resentment and resistance to feedback and change. Darling-Hammond (2010) investigated teacher evaluation and certification considering the American national context and points to a direction where effective and constructive teacher performance assessment can positively impact the quality of their teaching, thus influencing learning. Therefore, in teaching, we need to assume roles where we show our capacity for growth (Goldberg, 2003), embracing the need for changes in our lessons, perspectives and ways of dealing with the diversity of learners, variety of groups of learners, their needs and expectations – beyond learning our subject matter and about teaching methodologies in general.

If the discussion permeates excellence in teaching, perhaps it should also revolve around how willing we are as educators to go beyond our comfort zones and knowledge area to bring out the best in our learners. Saying that our excellence is linked to our ability to inspire excellence in others, linking our effectiveness to other people’s progress seems to be a conundrum hovering our work. This may be what we aim at – reaching others – and we keep believing everyone can achieve higher while we learn to accept that not all students will join us in the journey of learning. In any case, excellent teachers seem to choose the challenging path to help more and more learners.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010) “Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness”. Center for American Progress.

Goldberg, M. F. (2003) Keeping good teachers. Alexandria: ASCD.

Marcela Cintra
Marcela Cintra is a manager at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. She has taught English for over 20 years, been involved in teacher training and development programmes and presented in Disal, ABCI, LABCI, Braz-TESOL and IATEFL conferences. A DELTA holder, CELTA and ICELT tutor, she is currently taking an MA course in TESOL.