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What skills do teachers need?

For years the question 'what makes a good teacher?' has been raised and nearly always elicits a different response depending on who is being asked.

With the coalition government entering office last year, following more than a decade of labour being in power, the goal posts have moved yet again. Therefore a better question to ask might be 'what skills do teachers need to be good in the classroom?' Although opinions on this are likely to vary, some will remain constants.

Gordon Kirk, writing for the Times Education Supplement, recently asked: "Is it really the case that trainee teachers would be better off just learning their skills from existing teachers - or is there something to be said for the claim that teaching is a profession, one that also requires engagement with an academic knowledge base, as with other professions?"

Mr Kirk argued it is important for teachers to have the skills to engage their pupils and the "capacity to enthuse and inspire and to instil the willingness to learn". These techniques must be developed through work in schools. However, he argued they should be accompanied by lessons taught within a classroom. "Teaching needs to be evidence based: teachers need to study what is known about how pupils think, develop and are to be motivated to learn, about the barriers to learning and much else besides," Mr Kirk said.

In making these comments the expert hit upon one of the greatest debates surrounding what makes a good teacher: How important are academic skills in teaching?

Katharine Birbalsingh, a blogger for the Daily Telegraph, is among those who claim that "academic excellence" is a key quality that makes a successful educator, but is also careful to note being intelligent and being an engaging teacher don't necessarily go hand in hand.

"One cannot be an excellent teacher without brains. Intelligence is a prerequisite to being a good teacher. Often, but not always, academic excellence demonstrates that one is sharp," she wrote for the newspaper.
She also maintained that allowing teachers the freedom to demonstrate their skills in the classroom is one of the most vital aspects of ensuring education provision remains strong.

The debate about whether academic achievements will make better teachers is one which has gained traction since the coalition government announced plans to restrict access to training courses to those with a 2:1 degree or higher.  Among those arguing against the idea that a good degree is needed to create good teachers is Guardian writer and author of I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out of Here Francis Gilbert.  Writing for the newspaper he said: "When you're faced with 30 truculent children after lunch on a Friday afternoon, qualifications don't count for much... If you don't have the right personality, you'll suffer in the bear pit of today's classrooms."

Mr Francis said that in his experience,  there were four different types of education professionals - the despot, the carer, the charmer, and the rebel – suggesting that one approach is not always the best bet. He said the despot is a teacher which enforces strong discipline and has relationship with parents as well as pupils, is well organised and gets good results by strictly adhering to the syllabus. 'Despots' were said to be nearly always 'very experienced' teachers.

Caring teachers meanwhile had the skills needed to encourage children to develop and organise their own ways of learning. These work with a range of other people, including teachers and social workers, and are good at pulling the best results from difficult students.

Teachers described as charmers were said to be looking to develop friendly relationships with pupils and understand them, and were often "highly academic", meanwhile rebels were said to be "passionate and persuasive" which allows them to deliver strong and engaging lessons." But the crucial point here is that none of these teachers learned their skills by getting a good degree: they learned them on the job," Mr Francis said.

Although each of the education professionals mentions different attributes they believe makes a good teacher, they all feature some common ground – this being that education professionals must combine skills learnt in the classroom with knowledge of how people learn. What can also be agreed on is that the quality of the teacher has a profound effect on the achievement and enjoyment of pupils.