What are the qualities of a good teacher?
Is there some kind of list or formula a good teacher can follow to ensure they are doing their job well? Not really. But some good qualities seem universal amongst effective teachers, and I will break those down for you.
Now, I am just some dude on the internet, but I’ve taught every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 8 in both rich and poor schools, internationally and at home in Canada. I’ve noticed a few qualities that great teacher share and these include teaching skills, teaching methods, strong communication skills, student questions, and a positive learning environment. Focusing on these will hopefully make your experience a little easier and ensure that you will be referred to as a “good teacher.”
Here are some indisputable qualities of a good teacher. These aren’t things you will hear in degree programs, or professional development courses. But if you have most of these, you could enjoy a long and happy career educating students which is one of the most aggravating, fun, and important jobs.
Quality 1: You’re There for the Right Reasons
If you went into teaching thinking, “Ah, well, the salary is OK, and you get the summers off,” there’s no way you will be all that good at it or want to stay longer than a year or two. Unlike other jobs, you can’t mail it in one day and catch up later. You have to be ‘on’ every day or classroom behavior will decline fast.
Does that mean you can’t ever be hungover? Pretty much. You have to really, honestly want to be there to engage kids and increase student achievement- end of story.
Quality 2: You Don’t Get Grossed Out
Many say they can’t go into nursing or become a paramedic because they can’t stand the sight of blood. This is true for teaching, too – kids get nosebleeds regularly, snot is everywhere, and poop too.
I have had to deal with a young child eating dog poop off the playground, and yesterday I had to talk to a boy about reaching into his pants, tearing out his pubic hair, and sprinkling it on the classroom floor. So a good teacher wouldn’t get freaked out by these disgusting scenarios.
Quality 3: You Have Perspective
A good teacher has taught in different places or to vastly different groups of kids. You know that if you can joke around and win over kids who don’t speak the same language as you, you can make it anywhere.
You have a perspective on kids and families who may be different from you, and your appreciation for diversity is evident in your teaching strategies and classroom.
You consider your own biases and how they might be affecting your kids. Bias, prejudice, and discrimination don’t have to be racial or gender-based. The best teachers try to question their own assumptions from time to time.
If you worry about your preferences, the good news is that it is a sign that you are on your way to overcoming them. I am sorry to tell you if you consider yourself bias-free, but you probably aren’t.
Quality 4 You complain Strategically
A good teacher avoids engaging with teachers who are always complaining as much as possible. I’m not saying a good teacher doesn’t complain because if you don’t get it out with other adults who understand, you’ll bring your anger into the classroom. So you save the complaining for your one work BFF you know you can trust.
Quality 5: You Rarely Rage in Class
Kids can be more annoying than you ever thought possible. But before you go nuclear on that little imbecile who has done an even stupider thing than he did yesterday, you consider why they are doing that silly/annoying/infuriating thing and how losing your mind will only worsen the situation.
So you try to figure out what’s happening with the kid instead. But you have a healthy outlet for the inevitable anger you will feel, like kickboxing or breaking porcelain figurines.
Quality 6: You Connect, then Correct
This is a pretty common saying in teaching, but it’s true. It is way easier to ignore ‘the teacher’ than to ignore a real person who has spent time getting to know you and trying to help you. You know that if you want the kids to respect you, you must put in the time to establish a relationship.
Quality 7: You Stay Up to Date on Tech but Know Most PD is Junk
The best thing from the COVID-19 lockdowns was old-school teachers finally learning to use technology. Most professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) must take mandatory courses yearly to update their skills, so why shouldn’t we?
Well, one reason may be that ‘Professional Development’ meetings often consist of trendy, unusable gobbledygook cooked up by someone who hasn’t worked in a school and has little to no skin in the game.
If an idea doesn’t seem right, you have a healthy skepticism but are still open to learning new ways of preparing materials and teaching methods, to teach.
Quality 8: You Don’t Care About Being Liked
This new trend is where parents seem to care if their kid ‘likes’ the teacher. Here is an excellent formula for being liked: Give everyone good grades and don’t make them do anything. See? Everyone wants you, and the parents are happy!
But that doesn’t mean the kids are learning anything or improving. Don’t go out of your way to be a jerk, but you need to put the long-term needs of the kids first, and if that means that the students or their parents don’t always agree with you, that’s okay!
Quality 9: You’re Not a Sage, and there is no stage
Students have opinions. Regardless of their age, it’s not your job to bully students into agreeing with you.
As long as they can use some evidence to back them up, the students feel free to share their viewpoints without worrying that you will shoot them down, no matter how stupid they are.
Quality 10: You’re Not Their Friend
You don’t mistake your students’ respect, or even their appreciation of your witty banter, to mean that you are always friends. You keep the lines drawn, especially on social media. You only interact at school and through school email; that’s it.
Quality 11: You Give the Kids the Benefit of the Doubt
You know that every student wants to do well, and they want their teacher to love them regardless of what their actions seem to say. So you take it easy on them when they make a mistake.
You also give students the benefit of the doubt when you gather intel on them – you know that last year’s teacher isn’t you, so just because they don’t have great things to say doesn’t mean you will have the very same classroom experience. You also know that kids often change drastically over the summer too.
Quality 12: You Can Take An Insult
Kids say mean, inconsiderate, and cruel things, and sometimes they don’t even realize how hurtful these comments are. You know kids are kids, and you don’t fly off the handle when they tell you your breath smells like a poop sandwich.
Quality 13: You Have Systems & You’re Consistent
The younger the students, the more fantastic the teachers are at this. Everything’s well thought out, and nothing can be left to chance.
From entering the building in the morning and celebrating birthdays to engaging students making fair teams in P.E. without hurting anyone’s feelings – a teacher with a pre-planned approach leads to a relaxed, consistent vibe in the classroom and learning environment that benefits everyone.
Letting students have choices is a trendy but helpful option, and it helps ensure enthusiasm for projects and such, but you have a brief but unshakeable list of non-negotiables that are etched in stone. These might include a seating plan that you make; phones are away when you’re teaching, and mutual respect.
It doesn’t matter what your classroom rules are as long as the students know they are ironclad. Otherwise, they’ll push back on all your decisions year-round.
Quality 14: You have routines
The most amazing primary classrooms often have whole periods of the day where the teacher does not address the class as a whole and instead works with small groups and individuals while the rest of the kids automatically complete tasks and work on activities.
Ask the teacher how they accomplish this; the answer typically involves going all-out on routines for the first couple of months of the year. You know that once you have established your practices over the first little while, you can go wild with special spirit days, field trips, and all the other fun stuff. Your kids know when to snap back into normal mode, no problem.
Quality 15: You’re Curious, Not Furious
Let’s say a student is being a massive jerk out of the blue. You know it’s probably not about you. Once, I had an ordinarily easygoing student snap, kick over his desk, and storm out of the class after I asked him to take out his notebook. It turned out he had just found out his parents were splitting up. You know that situations like this are often the case.
Student temperament can be affected by a ton of stuff: What’s going on at home, what/if they have eaten, sleep patterns, and anxiety about holidays or summer vacation. You know it’s better to discover what’s up before becoming a disciplinarian.
Quality 16: You Ask for Advice on Teaching Skills
When you are faced with a weird situation you haven’t dealt with before, you know there is a good chance that another teacher in your building has seen it before. You’re not afraid to reach out for advice.
Quality 17: Effective Teachers Meet Them Where They’re At
You know there are plenty of things you can’t do because it doesn’t come naturally to you. You keep this in mind when working with students who are struggling. You chose to be a teacher because school was (probably) easy for you, and you (probably) liked it. But you know that not everyone is like that. School is challenging for many kids trapped there for 8 hours a day. Similarly, your interests aren’t universally appealing to all of humanity. Perhaps you are the world’s biggest basketball fan. You will likely be drawn to students who also love basketball. That doesn’t mean the kid who’s into anime gets less of your attention.
Quality 18: You’re Real
You never want to be that teacher who talks about themselves all day, but you’re not scared to occasionally drop some truth about yourself on the kids. It makes you a natural person and reminds you that you were a dumbass when you were younger.
Stories when you screwed up are precious, and you share them after disciplining a student sometimes to humanize yourself and encourage students.
Quality 19: High Standards for Student Achievement
You are friendly and care about the kids, but your primary purpose as a teacher is to make them the best they can be. That means that you hold them to a high standard academically and in terms of their behavior, attitude, and character.
It is a ton of work, but you know that seeing their progress is a total and utter joy – one of the best feelings there is, period.
Quality 20: No Burnout
The kids are with you for 6 hours every day. You know they pay more attention to what you say and do than you realize. So you act kindly, are thoughtful, and use precise body language throughout. You see the irony of the teacher who screams, “FOR THE LAST TIME, I HAVE TOLD YOU TO BE QUIET!”
So, there are 20 years of teaching experience boiled down to the top 20 qualities of a good teacher. Talk to some more teachers, if not all students, and they will all have their particular ideas of what makes a good and effective teacher too, and it will probably be some version of what you just read.