Better teachers mean happier and higher-achieving pupils

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New research by the London School of Economics shows that good teachers don’t just help children learn more, they also help them to become happier.

The data came from 10,000 children growing up in the Bristol area who were tracked from birth until they turned 21.

Children taught by teachers in the top ten per cent led not just to better test results but also a 20 per cent improvement in happiness and emotional wellbeing.

The study also found that what makes a good teacher is not just their experience; their job satisfaction and teaching methods (such as class streaming, strictness and encouraging discussion in the classroom) matter more. This suggests that traditional ways of rating teachers based on their qualifications and experience might need to be revised.

Dr Fleche, who led the research, estimated the average benefit of having a good teacher on pupils’ cognitive skills (measured by test scores) as well as pupils’ non-cognitive skills (self-esteem, motivation, perseverance, social skills, etc.).

Her empirical analysis showed that having a good teacher significantly raised pupils’ achievement in mathematics and languages as well as pupils’ emotional wellbeing.

She said: “The evidence suggests that whether the instruction is of good quality mainly depends on teacher’s job satisfaction and the teaching methods applied.

“Until recently, there was little compelling evidence on what makes a good teacher because no exhaustive survey was available. Teachers’ educational level, gender or years of teaching experience explain only ten per cent of the observed variation in teacher quality.

"The finding that teacher quality is mostly correlated with a teacher’s job satisfaction and teaching methods suggests that traditional teacher appraisal schemes might need to be revised."

Importantly, the data also measures classroom and school environments on the basis of information on school type, school policy, peer characteristics and class size. The estimates indicate that a better school environment as well as a better classroom environment increases pupils’ emotional wellbeing, but not as much as good teacher quality.

“There is a widely held belief that teachers are important inputs in pupils’ cognitive achievements. But much less is known about teacher effects on pupils’ emotional wellbeing. This study highlights the need to consider emotional health at school – both children’s and teacher’s emotional health – in addition to intellectual development. In many countries, most of these objectives are still marginalised,” Dr Fleche said.

The major findings of her study were:

  • Teacher quality is one of the most important school drivers of pupils’ success.
  • Having a good teacher is associated with beneficial effects on pupils’ test scores as well as pupils’ emotional health.
  • What makes a good teacher depends little on a teacher’s experience; rather, the quality of instruction depends on a teacher’s job satisfaction and the teaching methods applied.
School Leadership Today
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