Teachers- Is “Good” Good Enough?



Editor’s note: This is the second of three back-to-school columns written by retired teacher and principal Jim Nelson, and it’s addressed to teachers. 

Welcome back, Tri-City teachers, to another school year in possibly the most challenging and important profession there is. And while you scramble to deal with the present, I ask you to cast your minds to the future and consider this:

In 15 years, when your students are sitting in a pub somewhere discussing their favourite teachers, what will they say about you? Will anyone identify you as a transformational figure in their lives?

They should. Not all, perhaps, but some should.

So, amidst the hurly-burly of the start of another school year, please take some time to consider what kind of a teacher you are and what kind of teacher you would like to be.


You are a “good” teacher if you have developed the ability to have students willingly participate in a course of studies you have developed.

Your classes and materials are well organized, and students are pleasant and respectful to you and their classmates. Expectations are clear and students do well in your class.

You motivate your students with assessment tools and tests. You focus on student mastery of curricular material.

You present material and give assignments, upon which you base a mark.

You are pleasant and respectful to your students.


You are an “excellent” teacher if you have honed your skills to a point where you can not only get students to happily do course work but you can also convince them that it was their idea.

Your lessons are creative, engaging and fun. You are a master of motivation. You are so skilled that “discipline” interventions are seldom required in your classes.

You protect students from embarrassment and harassment. Students love your classes.

You enjoy a well–deserved reputation for excellence and are sought after by parents, students, and schools. You are funny and engaging.

There is considerable intuitive nuance involved in your relations with students, and you know you are very good at your job. You are a talented, special teacher.

There are considerably fewer “excellent” teachers than there are “good” teachers and “excellent” teachers are often preferred by parents because their excellence is more externally quantifiable than “good” and even “master” teachers.


If you are a “master” teacher, you have come to an epiphany.

You have all the characteristics of the “excellent” teacher but you realize that teaching isn’t about your proficiency and creativity in encouraging students to learn the information you purvey. The master teacher transcends this. You realize that your job is actually to help students develop an intrinsic motivation to learn.

Demonstrating skills at teaching is not the goal of the “master” teacher. The fact that you can keep 5 or 500 students transfixed with your words doesn’t mean you should.

Rather,the “master” teacher’s goal is to help students be the stars of their own learning show. They  help kids to own their learning; to learn because they are fascinated rather than learning as a response to motivational  manipulations.

“Master” teachers lose interest in high-risk exams and term assignments. You see them for what they are — implements designed to rank students and manipulate their behaviour with an implied threat of failure or a promise of external reward.

Master teachers begin to emphasize personal, anecdotal feedback to students and parents. They  know that these are the assessments that are important and effective in encouraging real student learning.

So, dear teachers, which kind of teacher are you and which kind will you strive to be?

Will any of your students, at 28 or 38  years old identify you as their favourite teacher?

If you are a “good” teacher, the answer is, probably not.

If you are “excellent,” perhaps.

If you are a “master” teacher, definitely.

My wish for you, then, from one educator to another, is that you experience the thrill of hearing that an adult who used to be one of your students, names you as an inspiration in their life.

About jimnelson806

Educational consultant from Port Moody. "The Stuff Isn't What's Important" " School Wide Discipline Programmes Don't Work" " Vice Principals are crucial towards setting direction"
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3 Responses to Teachers- Is “Good” Good Enough?

  1. jimnelson806 says:

    Reblogged this on Schools, Politics and Other Stuff and commented:

    In this tempestuous time, we shouldn’t lose our evangelism for teaching kids.
    I hope this “back to school” reblog from 2010 will still apply in Sept. 2015…


    • Chris Andersen says:

      Thanks, I was feeling fairly demoralized. I like to try for “mastery” in teaching but my internal “teacher clock” is messed up for timing right now, with it being sept 5 and I haven’t even been in my classroom for almost 3 months! Your “recycled” piece reminded me that things will work out, in time. Then I can try to “reground”.


  2. Pingback: School Lists Aren’t What’s Important | Schools, Politics and Other Stuff

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