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News17th October 2018

Nature vs. nurture: Highlights from a debate on whether great teachers are born or made

Research has shown that the quality of a teacher is the most important factor in a student’s achievement, more than school leadership, prior attainment or any other variable.

If teachers are so important to a student’s success and recruiting and training more teachers is a national priority, why is it that we know so little about what makes one person more likely to become a successful teacher and stay in the profession versus another?

This was the question posed at a recent Ark Teacher Training panel event: “Nature vs. nurture: Are great teachers born or made?”

The event was chaired by Rebecca Boomer-Clark, Director of Secondary Education at Ark, and featured four panellists each with a unique perspective on the art and craft of teaching.

Here are some selected excerpts from the debate:

Nadia Lopez, Founding Principal, Mott Hall Bridges Academy in New York City

Nadia Lopez

“I never wanted to be a teacher. I started off as a nursing major and it wasn’t until I had my daughter that I realised the impact that teachers could have. I then got onto a teaching training programme in New York City, and I’ll be honest, I was not the best teacher at first.

I did not understand how much work goes into teaching. I didn’t understand how much time and energy and tears. I would cry and ask myself, “Why did I leave a safe job with great benefits, to get short-changed?”

Eventually I realised, in order to be a great teacher, you have to learn your craft. I found mentors and they helped me and inspired me. I learned from great teachers who were compassionate and who were empathetic and took a holistic approach to being a teacher.

Teaching requires you to continuously learn and transform as a person. You evolve. How I started out as the teacher at the beginning is completely different than where I am now.”

John Blake

John Blake, Director of Policy and Strategy, Now Teach

“I think the question of whether teachers are made or born, in the English system, is secondary to the question of whether there are enough teachers at all.

When we do have people who are prepared to go into the profession, we then have to arrange it so that we can then help them to be the best teachers that they can be. We need to make the job workable.

We should provide all the support that we can for everybody who wants to do this job. I think teachers are born with an inclination, but they are made better through training and support. Some need more than others and I think nobody should be ashamed if they fall into that category.”

Isabel Instone, Professional Tutor and Science Subject Lead, Ark Teacher Training

Isabel Instone

“I’ve worked with trainees that have had years of experience working with young people and those that have had none. I’ve learned that these characteristics tell me very little about how successful a trainee is going to be in their first year of teaching and even less about how successful they’re going to be at the end of two, three, four, five years in teaching.

Much more important than experience are the softer skills – these are harder to develop and harder to measure. Resilience is incredibly important. Can they go through stressful and difficult lessons and pick themselves up and continue to want to try harder? What is their subject knowledge? Are they eager to learn? Do they enjoy finding the gaps in their knowledge and want to fill them in?”

Johanna Klinsky

Johanna Klinsky, Head of Professional Development, Ark

I’m going to fall squarely into the camp that says, yes, you can be made to be a great teacher. Somebody going into the profession with literally no training, but with just good intentions can be trained in – not just the techniques of teaching – but also the mind-set of teaching.

Sometimes people going into the profession are sold a bill of goods. They watch movies with heroic teachers going into the classroom and they think, “Oh I want to go and make a difference like that.” The reality is very different they need to realise that good intentions aren’t enough, that you need to learn and become comfortable with new ways of thinking and new ways of operating. Then you can become a great teacher.”

Ark Teacher Training is a two-year School Direct programme. Trainees are based in a school from day one, meaning they’re having an impact straightaway. Ark Teacher Training was rated as outstanding in all areas by Ofsted in 2017. This year, over 150 new teachers are training with Ark Teacher Training in almost 40 schools across four locations in the UK.

Find out more about training to become a teacher with Ark.