What makes a great teacher?

Posted on 16th Sep 2019 in School News, Teaching, Vietnam

Some perspectives from the classroom at the British International School Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

“The great joy of being a teacher is that we are in the business of transformation.” These are the words of Sean O’Neill, Deputy Head Teacher at the British International School, HCMC, and he is right. Whether they are small transformations over a long period of time or an overnight discovery; “the great joy of being a teacher is to witness those transformations on a day to day basis.”

The fact is that your child’s teachers will have a lasting impact on their world. The right person can uncover new interests, and give students the confidence to chase a bright future. Our teachers come from all around the world, but they all share a belief that an inspired student can achieve amazing things.

Teaching is one of the most complex jobs a person can do. It demands a broad knowledge of subject matter, curriculum, and standards; enthusiasm, a caring attitude, and a love of learning; knowledge of discipline and classroom management techniques; and a desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. With all these qualities required, how do you find the right teacher for your child?

Great teachers have a love of learning

All international schools claim to hire high quality teaching staff, and the best schools certainly attract the best teachers available. But schools are like any other organisation: they need to nurture their staff if they truly want to bring the best out of them. Don’t be afraid to ask what programmes a school has in place to help the teachers to refine and improve their teaching practice on the job.

At the British International School, HCMC, our programme of continued professional development (CPD) ensures that our teachers are kept up to date with the latest teaching methodologies and ideas. It is expected that teachers will proactively continue to develop their professional knowledge whilst they are employed at the school. They are offered a wide range of learning pathways including an online professional development resource called Nord Anglia University, which offers access to some of the finest minds and most innovative approaches in the industry. We offer the chance for experienced, passionate teachers to advance their knowledge in an exciting new environment.

Great teachers aren’t just inspiring, they are inspired

Ambition. Drive. Understanding. Inspiration. These qualities define the best teachers, and in turn, ensure that students love going to school every day. However, to continually present material in an enthusiastic manner and inspire students to learn independently, our teachers need to be inspired themselves, which requires innovation.

Great teachers don’t follow education trends; they think ahead and develop meaningful and sustainable approaches to educating young people. This includes partnerships with organisations that can offer genuine value to your child’s education. At BIS HCMC we collaborate with pioneering institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and The Juilliard School, developing programmes that will provide your child with the skills, qualities and outlook to create their own exciting future.

Great teachers don’t pretend to have all of the answers

Effective teachers use facts as an entry point, not an exit point; they ask “why” questions, look at all sides and encourage students to predict what will happen next. They ask questions frequently to make sure students understand. They tailor the learning in order to engage the whole class, and they don’t allow a few students to dominate the class. Great teachers keep students motivated with varied, lively approaches to learning. Sometimes this can mean exploring unfamiliar surroundings outside of the classroom setting.

School expeditions are designed to build confidence and independence, broaden students’ perspective and expose them to different cultures, people and ideas. Through our comprehensive expedition programme here at the British International School, Ho Chi Minh City, we offer unique experiences that are specifically designed to provide continuity with classroom learning. Each one is carefully planned to provide a range of age-appropriate but challenging opportunities for the development of personal qualities such as leadership, independence, collaboration and some physical endeavour. Importantly, our expeditions are also designed to encourage respect for different cultures through service-learning and activities.

Great teachers care not just about results, but about the people that their students become

Great teachers are warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring, in other words, they lead by example. Teachers with these qualities are known to make themselves available to students and parents who need them. You will often find them running co-curricular or extra-curricular clubs in subjects that aren’t always linked to their specialist area. They are involved in committees and activities around the school, and they demonstrate an unwavering commitment to their students.

In an outstanding school, this sort of dedication comes from beyond simply teachers, it comes from the support staff too. At BIS HCMC, we have a dedicated team of pastoral staff that contribute to the all-round development of your child. Between the academic team and the support staff, our students are encouraged to ask questions, demonstrate intellectual curiosity and a willingness to respectfully question what they are being taught. Only the best schools will be cultivating these vital skills for success.

Great teachers are transparent

A parent’s involvement in their child’s schooling helps to reinforce the learning delivered by the teachers. Strong communication between parents and teachers is essential, and can actively influence your child’s success. Great teachers reach out to parents through conferences and regular written reports home. They don’t hesitate to make direct contact with a parent if they are concerned about a student.

At BIS HCMC, we go even further by opening up our classrooms, so that parents can experience their child’s learning as it happens. Further still, parents are involved in the design and decisions made with regards to developing facilities so that they meet the needs of our diverse community.

There is no definitive checklist for ‘what makes a teacher great’, but at British International School, HCMC, we know that we have great teachers. “We have people coming into this building every day and each of them are trying to be their best.” Sean O’Neill said: “There’s a culture of innovation, a culture of vision and a culture of connection. A school is just a series of human connections, and that is the most important part of being a great teacher.”

This article first appeared in the 2019/20 edition of John Catt's Guide to International Schools. You can read the digital version of the guidebook here: