The Qualities of a Good Teacher
There are teachers, and then there are good teachers.
You probably had some good teachers yourself when you were a student. Memorable teachers that made an impact on your life.
Most people who decide to pursue a career in education want to be one of those good teachers. The kind of teacher that a student remembers for the rest of their life. The kind of teacher that helps their many pupils be successful and affect the future in a positive way.
While everyone has a different definition of a good teacher, there are some qualities that all good teachers should have. Qualities that allow them to make as positive of an impact on students as possible. In this article, I first discuss my own views of what qualities a good teacher should have based on my time as a student and growing up with two teachers as parents. I then interviewed ten other teacher bloggers on the subject and included their responses below my own.
A Good Teacher Has Patience (And a lot of it)
If you’ve been in education for awhile, you know this to be absolutely true. There is nothing a teacher needs more than patience. While some students will be effortless to teach, others will present an immense challenge. You may work with students that are mentally handicapped. Others will have a streak of incredibly bad behavior. Many won’t understand what you are teaching them no matter how many times you explain it. And a few simply won’t care enough to listen in the first place.
Dealing with difficult students requires a tremendous amount of patience. It is easy to simply ignore it and let the student fail, or send them up the food chain to the principle, but neither of those options will help most students. The only way that many students can improve is when a teacher is willing to be patient and work with them. The best teachers are those that have the patience to work with even the most difficult kids and try to make them success stories.
A Good Teacher Is Willing to Adjust
This one is very multifaceted. Good teachers need to be willing to adjust what they do depending on each unique situation. What worked well with the prior students you had may not do as well with your current students. Differences in student personalities and learning styles are difficult to recognize, but the best teachers I’ve ever had were able to do a good job of this, and it made all the difference in the world.
Another big way that teachers have to adjust is keeping up with our changing world, especially in these modern times. New advancements in technology are constant, and a teacher is responsible to keep their students up on the latest so that they can interact best with the real world outside of school. Teachers that don’t do this lose favor with their students, and are doing them a massive disservice.
Good Teachers Don’t Lecture, They Communicate
One of the biggest misconceptions of teaching is that a teacher is supposed to stand at the front of the room and lecture for an hour to each class every day. While for certain subjects and situations that may be true, for most it isn’t. A teacher’s job isn’t to talk in the direction of their students, it is to communicate with them. Communication comes in many different forms, whether it is one on one, mass lectures, or simply showing a video. Students learn best when engaged in multiple different ways, so incorporating different activities into a class is a great way to keep them interested and actually get them to learn.
Good Teachers Have a Passion for their Career
This one is something that I would hope all teachers have. Students can tell when a teacher comes into work in the morning simply to collect a paycheck instead of to do a good job. And if the teacher doesn’t care about school, why would their students?
First and foremost, good teachers have an incredible passion for helping students. They should always be the number one priority for the teachers, regardless of anything. Having that passion allows a teacher to make deep and meaningful connections in the lives of students.
Teachers should also have a passion for their subject. If you are a science teacher, you are hopefully the kind of person that builds rockets on the weekends for fun and points out the different species of bugs on a hike. This passion for what you’re teaching helps you come up with interesting ways to relate the content to students, shows the students that what you’re talking about is worth learning, and makes the job much more enjoyable.
It never ceases to amaze me how unorganized teachers are. Not only does this set a horrible example for students, but it can present a serious problem. I remember having a massive conflict with a teacher that had lost an assignment of mine in high school. He eventually found it in his massive piles of crumpled up assignments. This ruined my opinion of the teacher forever, and isn’t something you want your students to have to go through.
Being organized also makes the job much easier on yourself. There is nothing worse than having to stress about losing important papers, not being prepared for classes, or forgetting when you have a staff meeting because you are disorganized.
A teacher should never be content with being just as good of a teacher as they were the day or year before. A desire for constant improvement in every aspect of teaching will of course be a huge part of becoming a good teacher for anyone.
A key component in this is of course recognizing what you are doing well, and what you aren’t. Teacher evaluations from students, parents, peers, and administrators can help immensely with this. Take them seriously. Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses, you can only fix them if you know what they are.
The best teachers are those who are totally selfless in their work. What they’re doing on a daily basis isn’t about building up their own career, it is always about making a positive impact in the lives of students. If all a teacher is looking for is a paycheck, tenure, and healthcare benefits, they don’t deserve to be a teacher.
Teachers who impact the students the most all have a very similar attitude, and it is always incredibly positive. That positivity radiates out and students can sense it, and many times will be more positive themselves because of it. A positive attitude also makes the job significantly more enjoyable, especially during rough days.
Life Long Learner
If a teacher is going to be expecting students to learn, they should also of course be learning things themselves. In my opinion everybody should be a lifelong learner as the benefits are incredible. However, teachers in particular have a responsibility to their students to be constantly in the pursuit of new learning. The more you learn, the more you can teach. Many teachers choose to further their learning by getting graduate degrees. Others learn through hands on, real world experience, or through extensive research. However you want to go about it, there is no denying that a teacher has a responsibility to be a life long learner.
“The more you learn, the more you can teach.” (click to tweet)
A Good Teacher Makes Personal Connections with Students
I saved what I believe is the most important for last. My favorite teachers, the ones that I will always remember and I learned the most from, are the ones that made personal connections with me. And I know that other students felt this same way.
It isn’t enough to stand up at the front of a classroom and teach students. If you want them to truly learn from you, they need to have some equity built up in the situation, and the best way to do that is by connecting with them on a personal level. If someone would be willing to listen to you talk outside of the classroom, they are much more likely to listen to and learn from you in the classroom.
There are a myriad of ways to build personal connections with students. In fact, I decided that it was such an important part of teaching that I dedicated the fifth and final core article here on Education Initiation entirely to it. Read it here.
Other Educational Blogger’s Takes
I emailed a group of select teacher and education bloggers and asked them this simple question: “What is the most important quality of a good teacher?” While that question is of course a tough one to answer, I was amazed by how great some of the responses I got were. Here they are (in no particular order):
Corey from Class Antics says that love is the most important quality. - “A good teacher loves his or her students. The feeling is that strong. A loving teacher protects the students and tries to help them deal with obstacles in life. A teacher might help a student deal with academic problems, social concerns,and real-life issues. A teacher might help a child navigate a health problem by providing support at school or working with the parents and the school nurse. A dedicated teacher might help a student who is a foster child be adopted by a loving family. A teacher might help a child demand more from his or her parents–glasses, clothes that fit, commitment to getting the child to school each day. A teacher who loves his or her students will see these problems and commit to doing whatever it takes to address them.”
Diane from Fifth in the Middle says that getting to know your students is key. - “Get to know your students. Students will do anything for you if they think that you care about them and have their best interests at heart. It also makes learning more meaningful if you can help them to make connections to their activities and interests.”
Christina from Sugar and Spice says that passion is the most important quality. - “To me, the most important quality of a good teacher is someone who is passionate about children and their abilities. You need to keep your students’ needs and learning first – their needs come before any paperwork that is due, in-service meetings, or committees that teachers belong to. A quality teacher’s first and most important priority is to meet the learning needs of each individual child in her classroom on a daily basis.”
Mrs. K from the Teacher Garden Blog says that love is the key quality of a good teacher. - “Phew! Picking just ONE important quality is a tough task! I had to give this some serious thought. Flexibility, ability to deliver relevant and exciting lessons, patience, and a desire to continue learning all the time are all traits that come to mind. However, if I have to choose just one, I think the most important quality of a good teacher is their love for students. I think that when you love your students, you want the best for them. If you truly love your students and want the best for them, then you will do almost anything to help them be successful. This includes being patient with them when they are struggling or acting out, adapting your lessons to suit their needs, searching for meaningful connections to real-world situations so that the content is relevant, and more. The more I think about it, having a love for your students really encompasses all of the other traits of a good teacher.”
Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog says that showing compassion and understanding towards students is critical. - “I think the best quality of a good teacher is someone who shows compassion and understanding towards their students. A good teacher realizes that every student is unique and takes the time to get know each student that they teach.”
Krystal from Lessons From The Middle says that the best teachers know their students. - “‘Good’ teachers know their students. It’s difficult to teach those shining faces in front of us without really knowing who they are. When we truly KNOW them, what they’re into, what makes them tick, what home’s like etc. we are able to teach them SO much more effectively. If I know John is interested in hunting and the wilderness, I can shove some Gary Paulsen novels his way. If I know that Sammy’s parents aren’t working at the moment and that money is tight, I can sneak her a bagel at break-time so that she has food in her stomach and will be able to concentrate. So, although good teachers have many qualities that MAKE them good (patience, a sense of humor, making learning engaging, knowing their curriculum etc.) I feel to know your students well is at the heart of what makes a good teacher.”
Heidi from Global Teacher Connect notes the importance of flexibility. - “Flexibility. No matter what type of school you teach at, there will be schedule interruptions, unplanned conferences, play practices, field trips etc. that will throw your neatly planned day into an uproar. The key is to run with it, put in any teachable moments you can (Yes, I’m the teacher who does multiplication facts on the way to a field trip.) and be as flexible as you possibly can, in the best interest of the kids – and your sanity.”
Emily from The Science Life also talks about how flexibility is a key trait for teachers to have. - “‘Good’ teachers do not just have a single important quality. It isn’t just being organized, kind, patient, flexible, and it isn’t just being experts in the material that they teach. Good teachers allow themselves to be life-long learners and know that they will never be masters of their craft. They know that they will never, ever know everything there is to know about teaching and continuously open themselves up to new ideas and approaches, and constantly change based on the best interest and the needs of their students. Good teachers realize that just because something works one year, doesn’t mean it will work the next. Good teachers recognize that classroom community is probably just as important as the curriculum they teach.
If I had to pick one single quality that is the most important in a great teacher, it would be flexibility. Teachers must be flexible and open to new ideas. They have to be flexible in their teaching methods, their classroom management, as well as with their colleagues. Without this flexibility, student learning would suffer indefinitely. There isn’t one single child that learns the same exact way as another and if teachers aren’t flexible in their teaching methods, that teacher will only reach a small percentage of her students. Good teachers recognize this and constantly change based on the needs of the students.”
Elizabeth from Fast Times of a Middle School Math Teacher comments on the importance of adapting and being willing to change. - “I think the most important quality of a good teacher is the willingness to grow/change. This quality becomes rare in veteran teachers because of the comfort level of their lessons they have used for years. Students change over the years and it is important that teachers change with them to meet their needs. Although I have only been teaching for 5 years I can honestly say I only have a handful of lessons that have been used two years in a row. I am constantly reflecting on how I can be a better teacher for my students and that has made me grow tremendously from my first year of teaching.”
Mandy from Caffeine and Lesson Plans says that that passion is the most important quality of a good teacher. - “I think that most important quality of a good teacher is passion. You can learn the rest, but if you don’t have passion you can’t succeed. It’s what drives you to plan incredible lessons, spend your weekends preparing materials, and empathize with a struggling student. I believe that teachers are born, not created at college.”
Kristen from Aspire to Inspire says that supporting their students is a key quality of good teachers. -“I think besides being knowledgeable about the subject matter, a good teacher knows how to make their students feel valuable by helping them see their strengths and applauding their accomplishments even when students might not see these themselves.”
There were definitely several similar answers that I saw in these mini-interviews. Love, passion, and flexibility were recurring themes, and that makes perfect sense. After all, how can a teacher be truly great at his or her job without loving the students, having a passion for what they do, and being flexible in an ever changing world of education? I thought all of the above bloggers who responded to my question gave incredible responses and made some excellent points about qualities a good teacher should have.
There are many qualities that a good teacher might possess. And everyone’s definition of a good teacher is different. But as long as you are making a constant effort to be a good teacher, odds are your students think you are one, and you are making a positive impact on their lives.