ABTA: Home of the American Bridge Teachers' Association

“To help those who teach bridge to do it better, more effectively, more knowledgeably, more professionally.”



Betty Starzec, Former Chair of the Membership Credentials Committee and the Master Teacher Program, shares her insights into the Master Teacher Evaluation Process and a few tips for candidates for the ABTA Master Teacher designation.

Interested in reading more about Betty Starzec? See the Featured Teacher article on Betty here.

How do you determine if a bridge teacher is ready to be an ABTA Master Teacher?

We’ve made some changes to the process over the last few years. What used to happen was the teacher would have 45 minutes to look over a set of questions, basically bidding and defense questions, and we evaluated the teachers based on how they answered those questions. We also looked at their demeanor in answering the questions, if they were very pedantic or more open, or if they could say “You know, I don’t know that answer, but I could find it for you.” That was the way that it worked before, but it was hard to evaluate just how well the teachers communicated in the class.

So now we have a three-fold process:

                                 i.            The Bridge Hand: We give the teacher a bridge hand, and we ask them, “how would you play this hand, and how would you explain this hand to your students?” The hands have come from various places, one came from a Bobby Wolfe column a few years ago. And the key with this step is that teachers are given this hand ahead of time so they can study the hand, and also seek out advice. So during the interview, we ask the teacher, “Did you research this? Did you ask anyone?” And what we don’t want to hear is, “Oh no, I can do this one by myself.” These problems are difficult problems and we want to see that these teachers have enough confidence to ask for help, to make use of whatever contacts they have, and to ask for somebody else’s opinion.

                               ii.            The Presentation/Lesson: We ask the teacher to make a 10 or 15 minute presentation so we can get the gist of their teaching style. This presentation could help sway us one way or another in the third component, the bridge questions, because it gives us a sense of how teachers are with their students, and their approach in the class.

                              iii.            The Bridge Quiz: Finally, the teacher has 45 minutes to prepare for an interview/quiz during which the Master Teacher candidate will be able to show his or her bridge knowledge. The teacher certainly doesn’t have to know the answer to every question, but he or she can’t fail any one topic and still be considered a master teacher.

How do these additional components improve the evaluation process?

We’ve tried to make the process as friendly as possible—it used to be a lot more closed, and I think there was a big mystique about it, so a lot of people became intimidated by the process. Now,  we’ve made the process more open. Even though teachers have more things to do now, when they talk about a hand they’ve been given, and do a presentation before they answer the questions, that helps get them into their own element. Through this process, the Master Teacher candidates can show us who they really are. 

What are your plans or hopes for the ABTA Master Teacher Designation?

What I would like is for more teachers to try to become Master Teachers, and for teachers to know that although they may not receive the designation—because the process is not easy—the process itself is a valuable experience for them as professionals. Teachers can learn a great deal from coming through the evaluation process. If they are not successful, we try to help them by giving constructive feedback and information about their areas of weakness, and we encourage them to come and apply again. So, I  like that the process is more open now, and I hope that more people will apply for this designation, and see that the Master Teacher evaluation process is part of the process of getting better. I think if you are taking teaching very seriously, and making a living as a bridge teacher, this is a process you’ll want to go through.

What does it mean to be an ABTA Master Teacher?

The ACBL used to have a system, based on the number of classes you’ve taught, where you could get a star in the diamond book and the bidding book, and so on, based on your experience. There was a sense that the more you taught, the better you got, which is true, to a large extent. Now that the ACBL is no longer in the book selling business, they have gotten rid of the star teacher system, and now the Master Teacher designation is really the designation in the bridge teaching community. The ABTA Master Teacher designation says that you have gone over and above taking a teacher accreditation program, or an Easybridge! course. The Master Teacher designation is recognition from the bridge teaching community that you have reached the highest level of achievement that we have in our community.

How is this designation helpful, professionally?

Students who are moving into a new area or looking to start playing bridge can search for a teacher on the ACBL or the ABTA and look for a teacher with the Master Teacher credential behind their name. Also, specialized teaching environments like cruises are getting more restrictive as far as credentials behind your name, so it is very helpful professionally to have this designation.

How are ABTA Master Teachers recognized within the organization?

At the convention banquet each year, the ABTA announces those members who have earned the Master Teacher designation. These new ABTA Master Teachers are given a pin to wear that recognizes their designation, and they are assigned a special Master Teacher membership number. After the convention, our publicity chair gathers information about the successful candidates and sends a news release to their local newspapers and also writes an article for the ABTA Quarterly. 

What is one piece of advice that you would like to share with other bridge teachers or teachers in training? Be open, and friendly, and know your stuff—and practice, practice, practice! The more you practice, the better you’ll be, and the more you’ll know your stuff. When you know more, you aren’t afraid of questions, and even if you don’t know the answer, you are confident that you can find it. You will become so much more relaxed, which will translate to a good time for your students, if you just practice, practice, practice.