What makes a good science teacher? That is the new ask-a-scienceblogger
question. I am sure that there has been a lot of research into this,
none of which I have read. That is why this post is categorized as an
I’m going to answer this in a roundabout fashion.
Studies on the effectiveness of psychotherapy have been done, to try to
isolate the variables that predict a successful outcome.
Factors such as age, level of training, gender, gender
matching (whether the patient and the therapist are the same gender),
patient perceptions, therapeutic perspective, years of experience, etc.
probably can be shown to have some effect. But the strongest
predictor is the strength of the therapeutic
alliance. (See, for example, this
If both the patient and the therapist agree on what the goals of the
intervention are, and both think that they are working together on
their goals, then they are much more likely to achieve those goals.
There are similarities between teaching and therapy, although they
obviously are not identical processes.
It would stand to reason that the best teachers would be those who are
most effective at cultivating a good relationship with the student.
It would follow, also, that a teacher who is a good teacher for some
students might not be a good teacher for others. Therefore,
the property of “good-teacherness” may not reside in the teacher.
Rather, it is an emergent property that arises within the
context of a given teacher-student dyad.
That, of course, is a totally unsatisfactory explanation. It
tells us almost nothing about how a teacher can get better.
It also fails to acknowledge the observation that some
teachers do seem to be better than others. It also says
nothing about the qualities that might separate a good science teacher
from, say, a good teacher of history.
I could expand this, then, by saying that a good teacher is a teacher
who is able to cultivate good teacher-student relationships more often
than other teachers.
As for the peculiar traits of good science teachers, specifically, I
would add that in order to teach science well, a teacher would have to
have a strong interest in science, and the ability to model that
interest to the students. A good science teacher should have
a good understanding of science, and how the material relates to other
subjects that students might be interested in.