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How to spot a good teacher

As thousands of students return to classes, there's one critical item required for a successful year: a good teacher.

But how do you know if your child has one?

While good teachers don't come in a one-size-fits-all package, there are qualities that experts say are universal. Look for: A good communicator. A motivator. Someone who's passionate about his or her subject and shows concern for students. Someone who welcomes parents into the classroom and wants to work with them to help students achieve.

Here are some ways to determine whether your child has a good teacher, and what to do if problems arise.

COMMUNICATION

Whether by e-mail or telephone, through parent informational sessions, open houses or even classroom newsletters, good teachers will let you know what's going on in class and how your child is doing.

Jeanne Jusevic, chairwoman of Broward District Advisory Council points to one of her children's former math teachers, who would e-mail parents to alert them of upcoming tests, then send parents the test curve so they knew how their children did compared with the rest of the class.

With such teachers, "you know right away, they're looking to partner, to have a home connection so they can build a relationship,'' Jusevic said.

KEEPING IT INTERESTING

A teacher's passion for the subject and for helping students is a good indicator of how effective that teacher is, said Elizabeth Yagodzinski, an instructional designer at Lynn University's Institute for Distance Learning. "Good teachers love their subject and love being in the classroom,'' Yagodzinski said.

That means getting creative - wearing a toga during lessons on ancient Greece, for example. Or it may involve a teacher bringing personal experiences into the classroom.

If a teacher is motivating, chances are students will still be talking about projects, experiments or other lessons after school, said Royal Palm Beach mom Julie Fanning.

PAY ATTENTION, GET INVOLVED

Look for signs from the children to gauge teacher performance, such as whether children enjoy school, make academic progress and feel respected by their teachers.

Another sign: Parents are welcome in the classroom. Good teachers want parents to

volunteer in the class or for class projects, and to be partners in helping children learn.

Jeb Handwerger, a math teacher at Hollywood Hills High School, suggests parents reach ut early, attending open houses or other parent nights to meet teachers and give them their phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

"We can have more parent involvement,'' Handwerger said. "Parents need to be held

accountable for their kids' education as much as a teacher is.''

WHAT IF THERE'S A PROBLEM?

If there is a conflict, make sure to talk to the teacher first. Suggest a phone conversation or a conference, and approach teachers "with an attitude of 'How can we solve this problem?'‚'' said Nancy Self, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University's Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture.

Don't disrespect the teacher in front of your child. "This simply fuels the problem, causes the child to give up or to be a behavior problem in the classroom,'' Self said. "The problem is then more difficult to resolve.''

Should the conflict be over a grade, parents can help by holding on to their children's homework, tests and projects until the end of a grading period, Jusevic said.

Should talking with the teacher not work, parents can seek out a principal or assistant principal for help, said Judith Klinek, a former middle school principal who is now an assistant superintendent for the Palm Beach County School District.

Such intervention is more common at the elementary school level, since students spend most of their time with one teacher, Klinek said. And often, the problems emerge during the first week or two of school, when children are adjusting to a new routine.

She urged patience.

"We often tell the parent, 'Give it a week,' '' Klinek said. " 'If you're still not happy after a week, call.' ''

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