So, for reasons quite opaque to me, someone far higher up than me in the faculty encouraged me to apply for a UQ-wide teaching award a few months ago. The idea of teaching awards makes me quite squeamish, but from an individualistically rational (i.e. selfish) point of view, it would be a good move professionally, so I submitted an expression of interest.

Today I received my feedback (in which they addressed me as “Doctor” 😂), and one of the pieces of feedback was that I provide more quantitative feedback regarding the effectiveness of my teaching (in addition to what I’d already provided, for context:

  • the results of pre- and post-testing of students’ understandings of science, beliefs about the nature of science, and self-efficacy and confidence to teach science, showing that students improved significantly in each of these domains;
  • attendance data, demonstrating that not only do most students regularly attend my course, but that there is a correlation between attendance and achievement;
  • student ratings of course and teacher, demonstrating that students rate me highly as a teacher;
  • and of course, lots of qualitative evidence that triangulates these findings, e.g. assessment samples, student reflections, references from colleagues who have observed my teaching, and student evaluation feedback).

Well, you’re probably well aware of my views about the limits of quantitative representations of social phenomena (if not, read between the lines of this, or this). Most of the quantitative data above suggests that my students learned, but not necessarily that I taught them those things, and if it was my teaching, what it was about my teaching that was effective. But I do believe that I am a good* teacher for my students. Why? How can I tell if am a good teacher?

It’s a pretty big question. Some people helped me out on Twitter yesterday (yes, I’m back on Twitter, yes I still think it’s a cave, but some of my friends visit the cave, and I occasionally visit with them, and as ever, I reserve the right to change my mind):

Thanks, Stew. Is there a threshold number to attain? 😉

Good point… What’s the difference between good teachers, and good teaching? Can you be the first without doing the second, or have the second without the first? Is the second evidence of the first? Can we, should we, separate them? How do you evidence “good teaching?”

What are the right questions?

These are, of course, central questions of educational research into pedagogy, teacher identity, etc. They’re also commonly debated on Twitter. Some teachers on Twitter think there’s only one answer, and that they have it.

But how about you? I don’t want you to tell me what every teacher should be doing, or commenting on other folk… just you. What makes you a good teacher? And how do you know?

*And as my friend Peter would point out, “good” is virtually useless as a descriptor. So tell me what you mean by “good,” too!