We all have that one or two favorite and memorable teachers who made indelible marks on our lives as people whom we will never forget. Mine was an 11th-grade teacher, who one day said, “You know, you have a real knack for Spanish. I hope you will continue your Spanish studies, because you’re one of the best students I’ve ever had.” That praise and encouragement meant so much to me, that now, nearly 50 years later, I remember it as if it were yesterday.That teacher had, to me, what was the main prerequisite of a good teacher: the ability to motivate and inspire. She also had an innate ability to recognize student aptitudes and present her material in a way that took advantage of all learning styles. So, using Ms. Ruth as my model, I present the following as characteristics of a good teacher:
A good teacher recognizes that students have a variety of learning styles. Some students are visual learners; others are auditory, and so forth. The good teacher presents the same material in a variety of ways to make sure the concepts are being absorbed and understood. The good teacher verifies this learning by actively seeking feedback during the presentation. Ms. Ruth, for example, would move on to the next concept only after making sure her students understood. She had the uncanny knack of asking the same question at least three different ways from three different students.
A good teacher tailors the class presentation to accommodate the variety aptitudes of the students. Ms. Ruth never coddled the slow student, nor did she seem overly concerned that some of the poorer students tended to slow the class somewhat. She was relentless in her presentation that seemed to be geared for the midrange of our class’ ability. For example, during our daily “speaking practice,” she would team up the better students with the poorer ones and rotate the best students throughout all levels of ability.
A good teacher recognizes that some students are only interested in passing the class and, as a consequence, will never display enthusiasm for learning. Ms. Ruth was decidedly up front in her recognition that a few of her students were not interested in learning. She seemed to employ a special strategy towards the unmotivated learner. That strategy was simply an implied promise that the student would receive a passing grade if they met certain criteria and course milestones. In her introductory presentation, she emphasized those criteria. Motivated students knew immediately what they needed to do to get a top grade. Those only interested in passing knew what minimum effort was required for a passing grade.
A good teacher knows how to overcome the inevitable boredom of the classroom setting and promote learning through fun and participation. Going to Ms. Ruth’s Spanish class was a daily adventure. It was our last class of the day, and by the time we arrived, most of us were tired and anxious for the school day to end. Ms. Ruth knew that and had such a variety of class presentation methods, we would often ask ourselves, “What has this lady in store for us today?” One time, for example, Ms. Ruth wanted to teach us the various forms of Spanish verbs. She gave three students a listing of verbs ending in -ar, -er, and -ir, and asked them to put them on the blackboard with their English meanings. Another group of students were given flash cards with individual verbs and told to act out the meaning of a verb. For example, to act out the verb “hablar” (to speak) someone in the group had to say “blah, blah, blah.” For “comer” (to eat) someone had to mime eating, etc. We had an absolutely hilarious time trying to figure out what verbs the other students were acting out, and no English was allowed.
A good teacher takes a personal interest in student success. Ms. Ruth seemed to be totally focused on nothing but student success for everyone, especially her best students. Without making students feel the burden of being a “teacher’s pet,” she had a way of connecting on a personal level and convincing us that our success was the most important thing on her mind. The foregoing qualities are by no means all the characteristics required of a good teacher, and they are admittedly subjective. However, I can say that having been a teacher myself and emulating Ms. Ruth’s approach, I was told by more than one student that I was good teacher.(10)