The Impact of a Great Teacher

Taking a Look at Educator Influence on Teacher Appreciation Week

It’s teacher appreciation week, and across the country, students, parents, and community members are reflecting on the educators who have impacted their lives in the past or present.

For those who have been deeply influenced by an educator — who were inspired, motivated, challenged, and supported — the critical role of teachers in our societal ecosystem is clear. Teachers impact students’ lives in so many ways, some of which (particularly those that are lasting and truly meaningful) are difficult to measure outside of individual stories.

The impact of educators on student academic success is often evaluated to shape policy, but for a long time, our understanding of teacher effectiveness failed to capture the plethora of ways that teachers influence the trajectory of a student’s life. While academic achievement and testing outcomes are important, researchers are looking to develop a clearer, more comprehensive picture of teacher impact by tracking various outcomes not measured by traditional tests. Here’s some of what researchers have uncovered about teacher influence, across the spectrum of student success:

  • Teachers are the most important factor of all the elements of a classroom that impact student success. Research shows that teachers have two to three times the impact on student reading and math test performance than any other school factor (RAND Corporation).
  • Teachers impact student outcomes far beyond test scores: they provide them with life skills and foster positive attitudes. A 2016 study found that varying teaching practices and content knowledge can impact self-efficacy in specific subjects, happiness in class, and behavior in class (Blazar & Kraft 2016).
  • A study from Northwestern Institute for Policy Research examined teachers’ impact on non-cognitive skills by taking a look at 9th grade test results in addition to behavioral factors like attendance and suspension that have been linked to long-term outcomes, like crime, employment, and college attendance. The study found that even teachers who may not influence test score outcomes can influence long-term outcomes not captured by test scores (Jackson 2016).

Learning science also supports the notion that teachers impact students at a profound level, despite other factors in the classroom. As technology becomes more deeply integrated into the classroom, its effectiveness relies on educator integration expertise. The increasingly well-known SAMR model is a great example of the importance of educators in a digital classroom: technology must be integrated strategically into learning and every interaction a student has with technology must be purposeful — and that’s dependent on a skilled teacher who understands how learning happens, knows her students on a deep level — including their aspirations, motivations, cultural backgrounds, and social and emotional skills.

This week, reflect on the way an educator empowered you in ways that may have previously gone unrecognized. Reach out to the educator who influenced you to thrive and succeed in ways that may not have been reflected in your grades or your test scores, who you may not have fully appreciated when you were a student, and reach out to say thank you.

Educators, we appreciate all that you do for students, families, and your community. Know that even on the toughest days, even when your efforts feel fruitless and your impact feels minimal or invisible, your influence on the students you teach every day is profound.


To further reflect this teacher appreciation week, check out individual educator stories through The Art of Teaching Project:


References

Blazar, D. & Kraft, M. A. (2016). Teacher and Teaching Effects on Student Attitudes and Behaviors. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39(1), 146–170.

Jackson, C. K. (2016). What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non-Test Score Outcomes. Northwestern Institute for Policy Research Working Paper Series.

Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2012. https://www.rand.org/pubs/corporate_pubs/CP693z1-2012-09.html.