From TeachThought.com, Friday, April 26, 2013. See
8 Characteristics Of A Great Teacher
What makes a teacher strong?
What differentiates the best from the rest? There's no shortage of
bodies (some dramatically misguided) attempting to solve this riddle.
The answers are nebulous at best. Below is a list of traits, some of
which may be familiar but many of which will never show up on any sort
of performance review. Check them out and see what you
1. They Demonstrate Confidence
Confidence while teaching can mean any number of things, it can range
from having confidence in your knowledge of the material being learned
to having confidence that your teaching acumen is second to none.
Though these two (and many other) "confidences" are important the
most critical confidence a teacher can have is much more general, and
tougher to describe than that.
It's the confidence that you know you're in the right spot doing
what you want to be doing and that no matter what transpires, having
that time to spend with those young learners is going to be beneficial
both for them and for yourself. It's clear to students when
teachers exude this feeling. Working in schools is difficult and
stressful, and also immensely rewarding. But if you're not confident
that you're in the right place when you're teachingyou're
2. They Have Life Experience
Having some life experience outside the classroom and outside the
realm of education is invaluable for putting learning into context and
keeping school activities in perspective. Teachers who have travelled,
worked in other fields, played high level sports or enjoyed any number
of other life experiences bring to the profession outlooks other than
"teacher". From understanding the critical importance of
collaboration and teamwork, to being able to answer that ageless
senior math question "when are we going to use this?", educators
who have spent significant time and energy on alternate pursuits come
to the profession with a deep understanding of where school fits into
the bigger picture of life.
3. They Understand Each Student's Motivation
Just as each student has a different set of interests, every student
will have a correspondingly different set of motivators. Many (or
most) students will be able to reconcile their own outlook and
ambitions with what's happening in the class and take motivation
from that relationship. Unfortunately some students will rely
simply on external motivators, but worse, we've all run into
students who really can't find a relationship between what makes
them tick and what's happening in the classroom around them.
These students run the risk of disengaging altogether. This is where
the master teacher knows each of her students and helps them to
contextualize the work they're doing to allow the student to make a
connection with something in his realm of interest. Teachers who
can't help students make this connection need to rethink what's
going on. After all, what IS the point of work in which a student
finds no interest and for which he can make no connection?
4. They're People, Not Heroes.
Yes, all teachers are heroes. Now let's move beyond the platitude to
what this really means. Some teachers still have trouble showing
any sort of vulnerability of fallibility. These teachers will expend
immense amounts of energy hiding the fact they're frustrated at
something, that they're upset or perhaps even angry. Why?
Other teachers get tied into logical knots to avoid admitting "I
have no idea what the answer to your question is." But teachers who
genuinely connect with students are the ones who aren't afraid to
show emotions in class, who can admit that they aren't in fact the
repository of all knowledge.
Of course nobody want to be a wallowing, blubbering mess in class, but
what better way to teach empathy than to give the students someone to
empathize with when we're having a bad day? What better way to
foster collaboration and to teach that it's okay not to know
something than to say "I don't know, let's find that
5. They're Technologically Capable
Let's not belabour this point, after all, plenty of ink (or pixels
as the case may be!) has already been spilled on this topic. As time
passes, the statement "But I'm not very good with
_________."(fill in the blank with any number of technological
devices) is sounding ever more like "But I'm not very good with a
The only time the sentiment above is acceptable is if it's followed
immediately by "but I'm very willing to learn!" After all, we
wouldn't accept such weak rationalizations from students regarding
their work. In 2013, as a profession, we lose credibility every time
we allow excuses like this to go unchallenged. Enough said.
6. They Model Risk Taking
We encourage our students to be risk takers, we'd all like to be
risk takers, but let's be honest, the nature of the beast is that
many teachers are not naturally risk takers. This point goes
hand in hand with showing vulnerability, the teacher who's willing
to go out on a limb, to try something new, to be "wacky" in the
name of pedagogy earns the respect of students, even if the snickers
seem to say something different.
No matter the success or failure of the risk taken, the experience
will certainly be memorable for the kids in that class, and isn't
that what we're aiming for? After all, as the old adage goes,
there's no such thing as bad publicity.
7. They Focus On Important Stuff
Whether it's worrying about who's late to class, collecting every
little piece of work in order to "gather marks" or spending too
much time lecturing to the class in order to "cover the material",
there's no shortage of ways to distract teachers from what's
important. Strong teachers know that things like chronic
tardiness or skipping class are usually symptoms of larger issues and
as such, spending precious time and energy trying to "fix" the
issue almost never works. That's what administrators and
counselors are for.
They also understand that efficient and effective assessment means
eliminating busy work while giving targeted, meaningful feedback and
that engaging the students, connecting the material to their interests
and passions, is the surest way to maximize learning. There's plenty
of minutiae and enough CYA (Cover Your) in education to easily get
sidetracked, strong teachers keep their focus on what's
8. They Don't Worry Too Much About What Administrators
This trait is tied in with many of the others listed above. Strong
teachers do their job without worrying too much about "what the
principal will think". They'll take risks, their classes may
be noisy, or messy, or both. Their activities may end up
breaking something (usually the rules) in order to spark excitement or
They understand that learning is not a neat and tidy activity and that
adhering too closely to rules and routines can drain from students the
natural curiosity, spontaneity and passion that they bring to school.
Worrying about what the boss may think can be draining and restrictive
in any job, teaching is no exception.
In fact, the best teachers live by the code "It's easier to get
forgiveness than permission."
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244