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Topic: 8 Characteristics Of A Great Teacher
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
8 Characteristics Of A Great Teacher
Posted: Apr 26, 2013 4:38 PM
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From, Friday, April 26, 2013.
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 think.

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 teachingŠyou're probably not.

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

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 out!"?

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 telephone."

The only time the sentiment above is acceptable
is if it's followed immediately by "Šbut 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 YourŠ) in education to
easily get sidetracked, strong teachers keep
their focus on what's important.

8. They Don't Worry Too Much About What Administrators Think

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

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