6 non-negotiables for beginning teachers

IMG_1365On the subject of “highly effective teachers,” Kappan Editor-in-Chief Joan Richardson wrote in her “editor’s note”  for the April 2013 issue:

“During practice teaching, we should be watching closely to determine if these candidates have a deep interest in how children learn. The best teachers aren’t just content experts. They not only understand how children learn; they are intrigued by the way that children learn. Content experts may get really excited about sharing their knowledge. But expert teachers get really excited because students are making it their knowledge. That’s a crucial distinction.”

Richardson’s recommendation started me thinking about the things that I think are essential to see at the beginning of a teacher’s career, in addition to a solid foundation of classroom management and instructional skills. Because I agree with Joan, I started with her suggestion for beginning teachers:

  1. I would want evidence that new teachers are intrigued by the way children learn. Which would mean that they want to know in real time if and what students are learning.
  2. I would want evidence that new teachers believe in the potential of all students to learn and grow.
  3. I would want evidence that new teachers appreciate and enjoy the qualities of students at the level they are teaching.
  4. I would want evidence that new teachers value and tap the strengths and resources provided by families and the broader community.
  5. I would want to see evidence that new teachers believe they can always improve the quality of their teaching and of student learning.
  6. I would want evidence that new teachers believe that working with others is essential to continuous improvement and that they are committed to the process of becoming an effective collaborator.

There are obviously many lists regarding the qualities of effective teachers.

But these six areas seem like essentials for beginning teachers.

What would you add to this starter list?

11 Responses to “6 non-negotiables for beginning teachers”


  1. 1 whatedsaid May 1, 2013 at 5:19 am

    Great list, Dennis and I think they apply to ALL teachers, not just beginners.

    #7 I would want want evidence that teachers are learners, committed to and responsible for their own continuous growth and development as educators.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks May 1, 2013 at 9:02 am

      Your comment, Edna, prompted me to think about whether teachers might have these qualities at the beginning of their careers and then lose them. I think the answer is yes if teachers begin their work in school cultures that do not embody and reinforce those qualities or even denigrate them.

  2. 3 Bill May 1, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Great and relevant points and the additional comment! Peace

  3. 4 whatedsaid May 1, 2013 at 7:22 am

    #8 I would want evidence that teachers think about how learning takes place and plan their teaching accordingly. Always know their intention first, never start by planning activities.

  4. 5 Mary Valentine May 1, 2013 at 7:25 am

    If those setting policy don’t understand anything about education — and don’t care to learn, it really won’t matter in the long run what kind of training our teachers receive. I am sad to say that what I see happening in education right now runs counter to everything I ever learned about educating the next generation.

    • 6 Dennis Sparks May 1, 2013 at 8:29 am

      I appreciate your comment and share your concern, Mary. Here in Michigan, the state we share, I see a steady degradation of the conditions in which teachers work. I also see an erosion of the view that teaching is a career-long profession based on a steady accumulation of knowledge and skills. For those of us who believe in the importance of high-quality public education and of the “common school” as preparation for life in a democratic society, there is reason for despair. And there is a reason for digging in to do our very best to reverse the setbacks of recent years.

  5. 7 David May 1, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Great list Dennis. Number 2 really resonates with me. One of my pet peeves are the comments of some educators when it comes to an individual student and their achievement ~ laying blame elsewhere.

  6. 8 Abdul Rahman May 3, 2013 at 11:13 am

    1. That beginning teachers are given reasonable workloads in accordance with their capacities so they have time to reflect and plan effectively.
    2. That beginning teachers have timetabled access to a head teacher mentor for lesson observations and consultations.

  7. 10 Terri Wilcox Burke May 5, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    This is a wonderful list of attributes needed, however let us not forget the other important factor: team work! It is highly important that a teacher is willing and eager to establish a working relationship with the students parents. It takes a team to educate and listening and working with instead of against the students parents can make a huge difference!

    • 11 Dennis Sparks May 6, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      I especially appreciate, Terri, that you have included parents as part of the team. Thanks for adding your comment!


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