First, there is no hard and fast list that tells you who is a good teacher or who is not a good teacher. However, there are traits that excellent teachers have in common. These are not the usual qualities such as being a good friend or having a nice personality. These are what researchers from around the world have found when they watched those teachers whose students excelled once they left that teacher’s classroom. Of course, not every teacher is going to be a skillful teacher for every child and a child spends only about 8 percent of the year in school, which means that regardless of the quality of teacher, a supportive home environment is essential to excellent learning.
1. BE UNSATISFIED
The first trait of a high-quality teacher is that he or she is a good learner. They are always eager to learn new things, expand their knowledge base, experiment with better ways to achieve success. They are lifelong learners and they produce lifelong learners. So, the first trait is to be unsatisfied with what is. In other words, the best teacher is always a student.
2. HIGH EXPECTATIONS
High expectations are the second trait of outstanding teachers. I once had a principal who said having high expectations created failure. In other words, the principal did not want to set high goals for fear of parent complaints. In reality, setting high standards brings out the best in students and creates in them a feeling of accomplishment. They become self-reliant, learn to delay gratification, and fit more readily into adulthood where competition is inevitable. High standards are not impossible standards. Setting high expectations may require making the student uncomfortable, much like taking the training wheels off a bicycle. In other words, good teachers encourage risk taking and accept errors.
3. CREATE INDEPENDENCE
Thirdly, highly effective educators are adept at monitoring student problems and progress. They remediate when necessary and differentiate as needed. To do this they use their time well. They are not the center of the classroom. The students are encouraged to look for help and answers on their own. They are passionate about not teaching, but facilitating learning. As such, they are promoting their own obsolescence. Just as a fine manager has a team in place that can operate well without him or her, a good teacher creates in a student a sense of self that lasts a lifetime. They promote a deeper understanding of concepts and work habits than just learning the curriculum suggests. In other words, they create independence.
Fourth, they possess a deep knowledge of the subject matter and are able to manipulate, simplify, and individualize this data more easily because they are a master of it. To gain this they are not just hard workers, but have a passion for the subject. They are able to empathize with students who might not like that subject and turn that lack of enthusiasm around by presenting the facts from a different angle. In other words, their bumper sticker reads, “This teacher stops for new ideas.”
Fifth, first-class teachers have a good sense of humor. They make jokes and accept jokes. They are not comedians, but they are entertaining. They tell stories, point out silly things, bring joy to difficult situations, and are not afraid of laughter. They use humor to connect to their students. In other words, excellent teachers keep the students’ attention without fear.
The sixth trait is to provide quick and accurate assessment of student work. Tests and other projects are evaluated in a timely manner. The student work may not be filled with red marks or gold stars, but it is returned with the understanding of what was right and what could be improved. Without constant evaluation a learning child cannot make the progress of a student who is guided. A helpful teacher does not discourage original thinking, but it must be proven. At all times, the best educator is looking for the student’s reasoning, rather than the answer. In other words, for the insightful teacher, student assessment assesses the teacher’s performance and provides ideas of what changes both need to make to improve.
Seventh, the best teachers use the community as their resource. They see education as more than what is done in the classroom. They belong to civic groups, participate in organizations, and use their contacts to enhance student learning. For example, they bring in guest speakers, seek donations from the community as needs arise, and allow their students to display their work for the citizenry to critique and enjoy. They use technology as an extension of the community and find new resources to make their lessons more attractive. They use a newspaper and current events to open a child’s mind to what is happening in the world and at all times they search for a teachable moment
(any instance where a child expresses an interest in something that could be used to stimulate their learning).
This includes both negative and positive items and is the main reason lesson plans are never mentioned as a trait of good teaching. Superior teachers abandon them to follow more encouraging leads. This is why educators and education is so misunderstood by those who feel children are cans of soup, all alike and open, ready for knowledge to be poured in and sealed. Excellent teachers encourage student input and use the community to make for more invigorating teaching. In other words, a quality instructor is a master of flexibility.
Eighth, a first-rate teacher provides an array of methods to learn. They integrate the lessons among several subjects; they use research papers, artwork, poetry and even physical education as part of the learning process. For example, when a child is studying an explorer the teacher shows them how many miles per hour they walk, how to create a graph of the calories they would need, make a map of the trip with legend, write a journal of what they saw, draw pictures of the flora and fauna, and make a presentation of what the student felt was the best and worst part of the discovery. In other words, the proficient educator offers children a diverse array of avenues to pursue excellence.
Ninth, a quality teacher is unaccepting. They do not accept pat answers. They do not accept first drafts. They do not accept false excuses. They are not the easiest teachers because of this trait. Education is, in essence, the disciplining of the mind. A student who knows the rules knows what to expect and knows what is right. The best teachers are those that have appropriate standards and that build good habits. In other words, a superior teacher understands what a child needs now and in the future.
The tenth, and perhaps most interesting trait, is that a quality teacher keeps children off balance. The student is not bored, but challenged. When a child who has a skillful teacher comes home, they talk about what they did in class. They are riled up, they are motivated, and they know they need to be ready for the unexpected. A high-quality teacher can be dressed up in an outfit, show a video, take them to the library, have them work on a project, create lessons for one another, work on a computer, proofread a classmate’s work, and invent a game to play at recess, all before noon. One day is seldom like the next. There is continuity, but diversity is everywhere.
11. A COMMUNICATOR
Of note is that not one research paper said a trait of good quality teachers were their bulletin boards, tidy rooms, easy grades, ability to write neatly or dress well. All the traits dealt with the ability to trigger learning, and thus the most important trait of all is the ability to communicate.