Worlds of Education

Apologies! We have some good news about teaching.

published 14 June 2024 updated 14 June 2024
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A remarkable feature of many debates about the looming global teacher shortage is the deep-rooted and somewhat predictable perspectives about the role of teachers in this situation. Unfortunately, instead of well-thought-out ideas and exchanges, it appears that when the topic involves teachers, we are stuck with antagonistic perspectives, with each side showing seemingly unmovable degrees of certainty based on supposedly better data or superior moral arguments. Granted, entrenched perspectives are expected in the highly ideologically polarized periods, but perhaps there is also a degree of inertia coupled with strong preferences for simplistic answers among certain policy-makers, journalists, researchers, and analysts who keep rehashing themes and points of view, which usually only evoke and confirm familiar answers.

As researchers, we are not immune to scholarly slothfulness. When we developed a survey exploring public perceptions about good teaching factors –based on people’s beliefs about their experiences with good teaching– (Haas et al., 2023), we also anticipated that ideological polarization would matter. What the responses to our survey with 344 adults revealed was quite startling in two ways:

First, people who identify as progressive or conservative have similar beliefs about what constitutes good teaching. What we could label as the “good pedagogical sense” among the participants is the identification that very good teaching goes beyond the delivery of prescribed content. Good teaching requires understanding and caring about students in all their complexities and mastery of curricular content. Race, gender, economic situation, grades, and differences in when people went to school (and their current age) and political ideology (Progressive/Conservative) seem to be of little relevance to remembering the characteristics of good teaching. Also, and quite significantly, the factors associated with very good teaching identified by the participants in this study -- prioritizing relationships, affective connections, and mastery of content -- coincide with those identified in the relevant research literature (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018) and are aligned with the recently published recommendations of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession.

Second, respondents to our survey estimated having five times as many OK, good, and very good teachers as compared to bad and very bad teachers. Granted, some professional educators are not performing well, but not as many as promoted in media reports and political advocacy groups that systematically decry the teaching workforce's quality, making identifying and expelling “bad teachers” the key to global education reform efforts.

Our results suggest a paradoxical situation. How can we explain this apparent consensus about education in a global context of divergent harsh, ideological, and partisan beliefs? Related and specific to the pedagogical domain: How can we explain that individuals believe in teaching approaches that provide more opportunities for trusting and caring student-teacher relationships despite decades of education policies discouraging those traits and rewarding technical competence in transmitting knowledge as the most significant teaching skill? One possible explanation for our somewhat surprising results is that polarized partisan beliefs about teaching are mostly prevalent among the most active and ideologically focused people and less so among the general public (Druckman et al., 2019; Iyengar et al., 2019; Klar et al., 2018). Similarly, people’s beliefs are most likely influenced by their experiences with good teachers, and those experiences may diminish the effects of campaigns blaming teachers for poor educational results.

Overall, our study indicates the wastefulness of the global efforts to reform education that have systematically focused on identifying and punishing bad teachers (a remarkably small number, as we found) and blaming teachers for educational problems without addressing the poor and inequitable structural teaching and learning conditions that many school systems have to endure. Our study also highlights a very promising and cost-effective educational reform: To increase the likelihood of implementing more effective educational policies, stakeholders in the field need to start by recognizing that the public wants more of what they already see in the majority of teachers: competent professionals, who are strong at building relationships, creating relevant content, and knowing the subject content.


Haas, E., Fischman, G., & Pivovarova, M. (2023). Public beliefs about good teaching. Research in Education, 00345237231207717.

Druckman, J., Klar, S., Krupnikov, Y., Levendusky, M., & Ryan, J. B. (2019). The illusion of affective polarization (Doctoral dissertation, Stony Brook University).

Iyengar, S., Lelkes, Y., Levendusky, M., Malhotra, N., & Westwood, S. J. (2019). The origins and consequences of affective polarization in the United States. Annual Review of Political Science, 22, 129-146.

Klar, S. Krupnikov, Y., Ryan, J. B. (2018). Affective Polarization or Partisan Disdain? Untangling a Dislike for the Opposing Party from a Dislike of Partisanship, Public Opinion Quarterly, 82(2), 379–390. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfy014

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.