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What is the role of a teacher in the 21st Century?

“Teaching is something to be celebrated within our society”; Emma Goldsmith, Head of Winchester House School, on what makes an outstanding teacher

"The top teachers reflect the attributes of top students reflecting on their practice and constantly looking for ways to improve."

The qualities of an outstanding teacher are complex. If teaching is to impart facts and information, Google is a good source. In the modern classroom teachers do more than relay facts. They are a coach, a mentor, a moral compass. These characteristics are not about the transferal of knowledge but rather the shaping of character and developing the skill set to enable them to be critical thinkers of all the information that is available to them and to make the right moral choices in their lives. In short to be the best person they can be.

Therefore the professional standing of these individuals needs to be endorsed and recognised by society.


An outstanding teacher is one who appreciates their role in the development of the whole child and their character and who throws themselves into extra-curricular activities, sport and the organisation of social activities for the children. They appreciate the value of the relationships formed with the children. In some schools the distinction can be made by calling these professionals school masters/ mistresses rather than just teacher. Their impact is so much more that a purveyor of information.

The modern teacher’s success is measured against a set of standards which ensures there is a rigour to their delivery but the truly successful teachers are those whose relationships with the children make the difference. They create a classroom where children feel able to make mistakes as part of the learning process; the children feel safe to explore ideas. This facilitation is critical to the developing the child’s resilience which moulds their character.

Surely teachers who have this ability and talent should be heralded by society?


Perhaps there does need to be a spotlight put on teacher training. In the present system you can become a teacher after a nine month post graduate course in education or if you wish to be a primary teacher you can follow a three year BA course. There is also the third option of learning on the job through a hybrid scheme between a school and university. Should selection for such be more searching; should we place greater emphasis on the individual and whether they are fit to be a teacher as the training itself?

In my view the sign of an excellent teacher is their relationship with children and it is essential to see a potential trainee teacher interact with children to ascertain their love and connection. To not assess this at the first step when they apply to teacher training seems a missed opportunity. My first question when interviewing a candidate for a teaching post is what do you like about working with young people? If there is a pause it can say one of two things; either they don’t have an instinctive response which would concern me or there are so many reasons they need time to choose; I employ the latter.

Once employed the top teachers reflect the attributes of top students reflecting on their practice and constantly looking for ways to improve. I am not sure how I feel about teaching awards but I do agree with Colin Hergarty who was runner up in the million dollar Global Teacher Prize: he says there is no simple “formula” for what makes a good teacher, but he says that like being a good student, it can be about sticking at it. “It’s about hard work. If you get stuck, just try harder.”

Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Man and Superman’, includes the maxim, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”

This is a well know quotation but was used in the press recently when reporting on the shortage of teachers; it is not a new concept but it was rolled out to suggest that teaching was not an attractive career for talented people. In my view it would be more accurate to say those who can should and those who can’t should not contemplate it. Teaching is a vocation and something to be celebrated within our society. We entrust teachers with our children’s intellectual, moral and emotional development and we should celebrate their dedication and skill.

“Preparing children to be global citizens is very much a case of influencing their attitude to life and the world around them” (Richard Johnson, teacher in Australia and runner up at the Global Teaching Prize).

Winchester House School Open Morning - Saturday 14th May


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