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The reassuring thing about teaching is that those who are good at it come in all shapes and sizes. ...
The reassuring thing about teaching is that those who are good at it come in all shapes and sizes.

As chairman of the national judges of the Teaching Awards I have come across winners of many kinds.

We all think we can recognise a good teacher when we see one, but the truth is there are many criteria to be considered, so the easy agreement of armchair conversation may soon evaporate.

Do you pick teachers solely on the basis of good exam results? After all, they may have talented classes who virtually teach themselves. What about those who are liked by their pupils, or esteemed by the head? They are not necessarily the same teachers.

The Teaching Awards judges look at the whole job of teaching and operate in teams, so a single person's views do not dominate. We consider quality of teaching, relationships with pupils and parents, commitment, out-of-school activities - everything teachers do in a busy week. Judges go to schools, watch lessons, meet the head and school governors, talk to parents and children, look at testimonials and commendations.

This year, for the first time, members of the public, including pupils themselves, could nominate their favourite teachers. The judges enjoy talking to the non-professionals and reading what they have written. There is no tedious jargon, like 'challenging schools', nor any of the arcane language used by inspectors, such as 'above the national average', or 'generally sound'.

One girl wrote: 'I am really surprised that no one has ever entered her for a teachers' award before now - she is all-round great. If I thought I could be half the person she is, I'd be so proud.'

Who said teachers were no longer role models for today's teenagers? These unpretentious views of the people on the receiving end of teaching were all taken into account by judges.

Despite the variety, good teachers do have certain features in common. They tend to be enthusiastic, fair-minded, often willing to have a laugh, and completely devoted to their job, both in and out of school. Yet they are also unique.

One winner was a secondary school religious education teacher who created a sense of curiosity, reflection, tolerance and thoughtfulness in a multicultural community. Racism did not stand a chance of catching hold in his classroom.

Another was an infant teacher who ran everywhere, inspiring children to learn their tables by quizzing them as he rushed by on the corridor. Parents rejoiced when their child was put in his class.

But the alternative would be that all good teachers are the same and that would make for a dreary Teaching Awards ceremony, instead of the infectious bubbly event that cheers the nation whenever it is shown on prime-time BBC.

Professor Ted Wragg

School of Education, Exeter University

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