Every teacher wants to be good, but what exactly are the qualities that make a good teacher? What are the skills, talents, and characteristics, and can they be taught or learned?
Teaching can be quite satisfying for people who do it well. I know this because I am a teacher, too. Although I do not think I’m always the best teacher, do I know that the majority of my students love me, and I guess this is partly why good things happen in my classroom.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about—and done a lot of research into—the question of what characteristics make a teacher effective and how I can succeed in the classroom. Although every great teacher has their own special, unique style, I have found that there are nine specific universal qualities that are necessary for anyone who wants to teach effectively, whether they want to teach in an elementary school or a university. If any teacher possesses the following characteristics and qualities, he/she can become a very good teacher with large fan base.
- expert communication skills
- superior listening skills
- deep knowledge and passion for their subject matter
- the ability to build caring relationships with students
- friendliness and approachability
- excellent preparation and organization skills
- strong work ethic
- community-building skills
- high expectations for all
Each of these characteristics is described fully below. Although great teachers may also possess a number of other wonderful qualities (like a sense of humor, personality, flexibility, kindness, leadership, classroom management, a calm demeanor, experience, and the ability to multitask), these are the qualities the best teachers universally possess.
1. Excellent Communication Skills
You’d think that the most important quality for a teacher to possess would be knowledge, since that’s what the job is all about, after all: sharing knowledge. But no matter how knowledgable a person is, if they can’t convey what they know to others in a way that is not only understandable but engaging, the knowledge itself is useless.
- If a teacher’s communication skills (verbal, nonverbal, and visual, which involve speaking, writing, imagery, body language, and the organization of ideas into understandable structures) are good, they can convey knowledge with better skill and results.
- Since a large part of good communication is knowing when the audience has understood, these teachers notice when they have communicated effectively and when they have not. They will often paraphrase, illustrate, or take another tact entirely when it becomes apparent that their communication has fallen flat or has not reached or connected to the entire class.
- A good teacher notices when even one student among many does not understand, and makes an effort to communicate individually when necessary.
- Communication also involves explaining exactly what the assignments and expectations are. When students fully understand what is expected of them, it’s much easier for them to deliver.
- Interestingly, not only are communication skills incredibly important in the classroom, but they are among the most important skills in any setting. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, most Americans view communication as the most important skill for long term success “to get ahead in the world today.” So by being good communicators, teachers are modeling important lifetime skills by example.
In addition to being good communicators, good teachers also happen to be excellent listeners. As the Turkish proverb says,”If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” Of course, effective communication only happens when at least two parties are actively involved in the process together, and the only way to know if communication is heard is by asking (and listening to the answer).
So in an ideal learning environment, teachers ask important questions and then actively, carefully, empathetically listen to what learners have to say. When good teachers develop this patient quality in themselves, they start to become great. Great teachers listen hard and then use what they hear to improve the communication.
There is a saying that a teacher is only as good as what they know. If a teacher lacks knowledge in a subject, that dearth of understanding is passed along to the students. And keep in mind that although formal education is one way a teacher might gain the knowledge they need in order to teach well, there are other ways.
Passion is infectious. Love of a subject matter inspires a person to learn more, dig deeper, and think harder about it, so passion inspires deeper knowledge. The best teachers are those that clearly love their subjects and pass that passion and desire to learn more on to their students. When the teacher not only has the right answer to a student’s question but can expand the discussion with vivid examples, amusing illustrative anecdotes, and relevant facts, and when the teacher has a deep well of understanding and expertise to draw on, then every lesson is enriched, and every student might be inspired.
It’s not enough just to know what you’re talking about, though, and a great teacher doesn’t only teach from the head. In the best classrooms, hearts are involved, as well. In order to create successful learning environments, great teachers need to be able to build caring relationships with their students. It is the caring student-teacher relationship that facilitates the exchange of information.
The best teachers are often the ones that care the most deeply, not only about their jobs, but about every student they serve. It’s not enough just to love the subject matter: Great teachers also share a love of students. Caring about the students is what inspires teachers to reach out, do better, communicate more, ask, learn, refine, and improve. This is something that can’t be taught, not even in the best school.
5. Friendliness and Approachability
Because it’s the teacher’s job to help students learn, they must be easy to approach. Students will have questions that can’t be answered if the teacher isn’t friendly and easy to talk to. The crabby, unapproachable, terse, mean, arrogant, rude, all-business teacher can’t last long. If the students think of their teacher as their enemy, they certainly won’t learn much. The best teachers are the most open, welcoming, and easy to approach.
No matter how charming you are, if you show up for a class without an excellent plan for how to teach your material, you won’t succeed. Great teachers spend endless hours outside of the classroom preparing, designing lessons, learning more (both about their subject matter specifically and how to teach, in general), participating in professional development, and thinking of fresh and interesting ways to reach the students.
The best teachers have excellent lesson plans, lectures, and assignments that they continually improve. They have studied extensively and read widely about how to teach and methods to facilitate learning. They structure their days, lessons, and units in a way that fosters maximal understanding and interest. They collaborate with other teachers and attend classes to learn more about their subject matter and how to best convey it. They are available outside of class, and they grade papers quickly, writing personal notes to help their students understand.
Anyone who’s done it knows that teaching is one of the hardest jobs there is. The secret that keeps them going is that great teachers really, really want to be great teachers, and they’ll stop at nothing do succeed. A great teacher will do almost anything to help their students. They always make time and they’re always willing to help. If something doesn’t work, they’ll work tirelessly until they find a solution. A teacher’s work is never done but the best ones never stop trying, they never quit.
The best teachers understand the importance of building supportive and collaborative environments. In addition to forming caring relationships with each student, the best teachers foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships between the students. They know how to establish guidelines and assign roles to enlist every student’s help and participation. Every student feels like they are not only accepted by the larger group, but that their presence is a necessary ingredient in the classroom’s magic. Their classrooms are like little communities where each individual plays a part and feels at home.
Studies show that a teacher’s expectations have a huge impact on student achievement. The best teachers have high expectations for all of their students. They expect a lot from each student, but those expectations are both challenging and realistic. This doesn’t mean they hold all students to the same high standard, but instead that they know what each student is capable of individually and strive to help each one attain their personal best.