The Teacher’s Role in Student Success

The phrase “knowledge is power” was coined by the English statesman and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon. He used this phrase to convey his belief that the more people learned and understood, the more powerful they could become and the more control they could exert over others. There is evidence that this is true in all areas of society. Though there are numerous ways to learn new things, most people gain knowledge through a formal educational system. But even when two people have the same educational experience, there is no guarantee that they will achieve the same level of learning. So how do we acquire knowledge?

Educational administrators from elementary schools to universities have been asking this question for years in an effort to create a more successful learning environment for all students. The analyses of these systems indicate that there is no single factor which can be directly linked to student success but many studies tie student performance to the expertise of teachers. These findings would seem to indicate that all students could gain the most knowledge if they just had better teachers. As a result, most high schools, universities, and even graduate programs have instituted professional development programs that include a teacher observation, peer review and annual evaluations. These and other efforts seem to improve teachers’ performance and skill levels, but students’ educational gains have not necessarily kept pace.

The fact that there may not be a direct correlation between teacher skill and student performance demonstrates Goodhart’s Law which states that it is a mistake to use one single aspect of a system to measure its success. These factors are too easily manipulated to skew the results of any such study. Rather it makes sense to examine a variety of factors such as family support, the student’s motivation and preparation, the resources available, and class size to name just a few. The overall environment must also be considered as well as the student’s past educational experiences.

Another critical factor that has only recently surfaced is a student’s learning style. In traditional educational systems, teachers were viewed as the expert and were expected to lecture to the class and impart their wisdom. Students learned passively by trying to absorb all that they heard and read. Today, information is readily available from a number of sources and students are now directed to be more active participants in the learning process. Teachers serve as the moderator with a mission to guide each student according to that particular student’s learning style. Instead of simply providing all the answers, teachers now also need to be skilled enough to show each student how to acquire knowledge in the way that they learn best.

Teacher and student performance may never be a one-to-one relationship but even with the availability of technology and readily accessible information, continuing teacher development is critical to student success. It is one thing to acquire knowledge but another to truly understand how to use it and teachers must be involved in this process.