What makes a great teacher

Teaching can be a rewarding career choice. But, becoming a teacher can feel daunting. Anyone who is willing to learn can develop the traits of a great teacher. Greatness can be defined in a variety of ways, but when it comes to teaching children, there are some features that will help you reach your students effectively.

#1 Great teachers are patient

Developing patience requires emotional intelligence, opportunities to be patient, and time. We know that all students learn at different rates, and sometimes, it feels like we’re always waiting to see student growth. Other times, we find ourselves needing to exercise patience with students who have missed homework or who have fallen behind on a task or project. In seeking to provide an equitable experience for our students, patience is essential.

#2 Great teachers know that it’s all about the students

There are a lot of factors that impact student performance. Honestly, as a society, we put too much pressure on teachers to control things that they simply can’t fix. Simply put, great teachers know that their students need high-quality education. You balance what your students need with carefully crafted instruction. What does this look like in practice, though?

Model good listening

Listening to your students, for example, shows that you care about them. Margaret Steen from Resilient Educator explains the value of listening to students this way: “When students feel they are genuinely part of the conversation, they are more likely to really understand what they are learning and remember it.” Building up your listening skills and giving students opportunities to share will positively impact learning outcomes in your classroom.

Set high expectations

Great teachers expect a lot from their students. This doesn’t mean demanding perfection. But, it does mean coaching students to embrace failure, manage their emotions, and focus on accuracy. Every student approaches school differently, so setting high expectations about the quality of work and effort will help students in the long run. Even though each student brings their own strengths and weaknesses with them, setting high expectations can help each child strive to grow.

#3 Great teachers generate excitement about the content

Are you passionate about what you’re teaching? Research shows that if you’re fired up about the content, your students are more likely to be engaged as well. This doesn’t mean that you need to pretend to be pumped about identifying gerunds if it’s not your favorite topic. But, it does mean that you think about how you approach the content and how your approach impacts your students.

Think about your students’ perspective

Considering your students’ perspective is obvious, but it’s easy to overlook after a long semester of teaching and planning. Teaching veteran Jonathan Eckert put it this way: “Teaching the same content class after class, year after year, in cold, gray February can be as soul-sucking as a Dementor’s kiss…if our focus is on the what rather than the who.”

In other words, it’s okay to plan some fun and enjoy the learning process along with your students. Finding engaging strategies that work for your students will help them feel connected to the content. Their engagement and excitement for instructional time will pay off in the long run with their attention and recall.

If this concept is new for you, you can get started by using games, humor, and/or collaboration to bring seemingly drab content to life. Some teachers find that weaving in a new icebreaker activity or journal prompt gets their students engaged right away.

What works for your students?

Remember that engaging your students doesn’t mean you have to be someone you’re not. It doesn’t have to mean a complete curricular takeover, or that you need to become famous on social media for your extravagant student engagement methods. Knowing your students is enough to help you find something exciting about just about any topic you teach them.

#4 Great teachers create a safe environment

From your time in your teacher education program, you’ll recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In his article on the topic, Dr. Saul McLeod highlights the need for order, predictability, and control. When your classroom is well-organized and managed, students feel a sense of safety, which enables them to be more open to learning.

Creating a safe environment might sound like a huge task. That’s probably because classroom safety is a big deal for students, teachers, and support staff. However, there are some small things you can do to help encourage classroom safety. You can implement simple and straightforward routines that will make your classroom feel like a safe place for learning.

Strategies for Building a safe classroom environment

Morning meetings serve as a great check-in at any level. Naturally, these meetings will look quite different at the Kindergarten level versus the middle school level. Beginning your day or week with a meeting will help set the foundation for how you do things in your classroom. Also, each time you get a new class, you should consider creating rules together. Doing this gives students buy-in and a voice in the culture of your classroom community. Ultimately, getting to know your students will help you understand them and lay the groundwork for a safe classroom.

Also, it’s important for schools and districts to make sure their teachers and support staff are properly trained. Most schools will require professional development and onboarding training for their faculty and staff. Sometimes, though, for a variety of reasons, crucial topics get missed. If you’re feeling unprepared when it comes to managing your classroom and creating a safe environment, reach out to your administrator, a colleague, or a mentor for some support.

So…what actually makes a great teacher?

We listed a few characteristics that can help make teachers great at their jobs. Great teachers are:

  • Patient
  • Passionate
  • Student-focused
  • Able to create a safe learning environment

While these features are important, this list is by no means exhaustive.

Dr. Jim Pingel, Concordia University Wisconsin & Ann Arbor’s Dean of the School of Education, says that “great teachers provide help, hope, and a home (away from home). They require a student’s best effort, perspire in the pursuit of excellence, inspire as motivated by God’s calling and Word.”

What other qualities make teachers great?

If you’re interested in learning more about what a career as a teacher could look like for you, visit us here