January 14, 2013

Nine Characteristics of a Great Teacher

By: in Philosophy of Teaching

Years ago, as a young, eager student, I would have told you that a great teacher was someone who provided classroom entertainment and gave very little homework. Needless to say, after many years of K-12 administrative experience and giving hundreds of teacher evaluations, my perspective has changed. My current position as a professor in higher education gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned with current and future school leaders, and allows for some lively discussions among my graduate students in terms of what it means to be a great teacher.

Teaching is hard work and some teachers never grow to be anything better than mediocre. They do the bare minimum required and very little more. The great teachers, however, work tirelessly to create a challenging, nurturing environment for their students. Great teaching seems to have less to do with our knowledge and skills than with our attitude toward our students, our subject, and our work. Although this list is certainly not all-inclusive, I have narrowed down the many characteristics of a great teacher to those I have found to be the most essential, regardless of the age of the learner:

1. A great teacher respects students. In a great teacher’s classroom, each person’s ideas and opinions are valued. Students feel safe to express their feelings and learn to respect and listen to others. This teacher creates a welcoming learning environment for all students.

2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom. The mutual respect in this teacher’s classroom provides a supportive, collaborative environment. In this small community, there are rules to follow and jobs to be done and each student is aware that he or she is an important, integral part of the group. A great teacher lets students know that they can depend not only on her, but also on the entire class.

3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. This person is approachable, not only to students, but to everyone on campus. This is the teacher to whom students know they can go with any problems or concerns or even to share a funny story. Great teachers possess good listening skills and take time out of their way-too-busy schedules for anyone who needs them. If this teacher is having a bad day, no one ever knows—the teacher leaves personal baggage outside the school doors.

4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students.
This teacher realizes that the expectations she has for her students greatly affect their achievement; she knows that students generally give to teachers as much or as little as is expected of them.

5. A great teacher has his own love of learning and inspires students with his passion for education and for the course material. He constantly renews himself as a professional on his quest to provide students with the highest quality of education possible. This teacher has no fear of learning new teaching strategies or incorporating new technologies into lessons, and always seems to be the one who is willing to share what he’s learned with colleagues.

6. A great teacher is a skilled leader. Different from administrative leaders, effective teachers focus on shared decision-making and teamwork, as well as on community building. This great teacher conveys this sense of leadership to students by providing opportunities for each of them to assume leadership roles.

7. A great teacher can “shift-gears” and is flexible when a lesson isn’t working. This teacher assesses his teaching throughout the lessons and finds new ways to present material to make sure that every student understands the key concepts.

8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis. Rather than thinking of herself as weak because she asks for suggestions or help, this teacher views collaboration as a way to learn from a fellow professional. A great teacher uses constructive criticism and advice as an opportunity to grow as an educator.

9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas
—from personal appearance to organizational skills and preparedness for each day. Her communication skills are exemplary, whether she is speaking with an administrator, one of her students or a colleague. The respect that the great teacher receives because of her professional manner is obvious to those around her.

While teaching is a gift that seems to come quite naturally for some, others have to work overtime to achieve great teacher status. Yet the payoff is enormous — for both you and your students. Imagine students thinking of you when they remember that great teacher they had in college!

Dr. Maria Orlando is a core faculty member in the doctoral Educational Leadership and Management Specialization at Capella University. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.

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Comments

Pat Boling | January 14, 2013

This strikes me as a list of necessary but not sufficient conditions for being a great teacher. What makes a teacher great is reaching to present difficult content, ideas, debates, issues in a lucid, compelling way, time after time. A great teacher works hard to prepare, to think freshly about the material she's teaching, and to find current examples that will grab her students' interest. A great teacher makes the classroom magic happen, regularly. She or he elicits her students' best efforts and engages their minds, so that they leave class still alive with ideas and comments, and they talk about what went on in class with their friends, roommates, family when they get home too.

@MagdinStoica | January 14, 2013

Once in a while, something comes along that you want to carry with you, make a poster of and post it in your office; something you need to read every now and then to remind you of your destination, something to aspire and inspire. Today, your post was that "something". Thank you and thank you @FacultyFocus.

suehellman | January 14, 2013

I'd like to add several points to this list of 'greats' — (1) great teachers create learning experiences rather than instructional episodes — by constantly refining how to get the students from what they arrive knowing to what they need to understand or be able to do when they leave; (2) great teachers walk their own talk — by that I mean they embody and model the spirit of what they teach & expect of their students; and (3) great teachers can see their own work through their students' eyes — they have not lost their personal connection to what it's like to be a student. When the learning goes well, a great teacher ensures the students own this success. When it doesn't, the 'buck' lands firmly in the teacher's lap.

emn789 | January 14, 2013

Those who don't see themselves being all nine (or at least working diligently toward excellence in), shouldn't be teaching. Having said that, perfection in all areas and all circumstances isn't attainable either. So, I strive to learn and grow daily in these nine (and the additional items recommended by suehellman). Some days are better than others (-:

Greg C. | January 14, 2013

A great list…and some great follow-up comments & suggestions – here's another one:
DON'T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES (OR ADMIT THEM)!
A teacher is human and one of the best role modelling strategies we can impart on our students is to learn from our mistakes. If you are wrong – 'fess up and fix it! We expect nothing less from our students. I think this is a subset of high expectations and accountability, yes?

Syed Sohail Ahmed | January 14, 2013

In short a great teacher always follow
A RA , A=Acknowledge, R=respect and A= Appreciation

Wayne | January 14, 2013

A great teacher also encourages both genders. There is only on male pronoun used in the article!

Guest | January 14, 2013

I see two. Also, some of the points are written in gender-neutral language. Please don't be so silly.

aurora ma. veronika | January 14, 2013

a great teacher do not allow exploitation of her environment, of her institution… especially when the teaching is happening in the most uncomfortable, and among the poor countries in asia….

Old School | January 14, 2013

When learning doesn't go well, it is not necessarily the teacher's fault. I think the teacher has the responsibility to understand why it didn't go as well as hoped, but students are accountable for their own learning and often do not accept that responsibility.

John | January 15, 2013

A great teacher is a guide and a facilitator, who leads by example.

Laxmi Garigipati | January 15, 2013

A great teacher is always a best guide, Friend and philosopher. This is a very good article and the points gives a teacher a right direction.

Kristin | January 15, 2013

What a great article! I'll be sharing this with my Adult Education students this semester…

lirek | January 15, 2013

Fantastic article!! Thank you Maria! If I could be so bold as to add one more to the list? I believe great teachers teach problem solving, not just how to find the "answer."

Jeremiah Stanghini | January 15, 2013

I think #5 (A great teacher has his own love of learning) is really important. Teachers needs to continually renew themselves and their knowledge. The wisdom of today may not be the wisdom of tomorrow. In fact, the wisdom of today may be proved wrong tomorrow.

Life Long Learner | January 15, 2013

Great post. Some of the points can be bunched into one. Thomas Anthony Angelo's Teachers dozen http://www.csuchico.edu/~lseder/ceeoc/teachers_dozen.pdf is a more complete list of what great teaching entails.

Anjie Kokan | January 18, 2013

This is a wonderful reminder of what teachers who want to be great strive to do. I also like what Pat Boling added to this. Thank you, Maria and Pat!

a teacher, too | January 19, 2013

I find it interesting that substituting "she" for the usual, acceptable "he" pronoun is somehow seen as a glarring omission……I doubt if keeping with the typical default pronoun "he" would have even been recognized, much less commented upon. Think about it….

Shawn Johnson, EdD. | January 23, 2013

Reading the posts after the article was as informative and helped me grow as much as the article. Kudos to you all. I would like to add that as elementary as this seems, creating a learning environment online that helps students feel "safe." Safe to explore, to make mistakes, to try and not be judged for his/her thoughts and opinions….to me, that is true learning and growth. Shawn Feaster Johnson, Ed.D.

guest | January 27, 2013

A great teacher is one who has an incredibly challenging class, a class of uninterested students – and the teacher tries EVERYTHING but never gives up. One can have all the skills mentioned here and still not move a class – and that is the biggest challenge of all – coming to class everyday willing to try something new, never giving up although the class just never ignites. I've only had one class like this in my career, fortunately. The comment that the students need to want to learn is a wise observation, and a true one; a teacher is half the equation, and can only do so much, even the great ones. Not all students can be inspired, unfortunately. But we can't stop trying!

@judartbarnside | January 29, 2013

A great teacher doesn't allow the students who struggle more often to fall through the cracks. The best teachers are definitely the ones that treat each and every student with respect and the ones that will have complete gratitude for you when you accomplish something, and be disappointed when you let yourself slack. If you see your teacher's disinterest in a topic you tend to allow yourself to drift away, nothing is more interesting to a student than seeing passion about a topic. Great teaching to me was the incorporation of different teaching styles when one wasn't working and understanding that extra time outside of class is necessary for every student to get where they need to be. There was students in my classes who thoroughly didn't want to learn and if they even came to class, actively tried to disrupt it. The teacher that got through to those students, even just once, were the most skilled as they understood that everyone strives for something in life and could be personable enough to any student that the student would reveal that dream. I am most grateful of the teachers in my life that embodied any of those aspects and any of the nine above because without them I may not be where I am today.

mbaskaran | January 30, 2013

A great teacher inspires and heroic in communication.Usually teachers who teach primary level are those who are fresh in the minds of students. These students keep their teachers in mind fresh and adore at all time. They are great. So that type of qualities-NOBLE -MINDEDNESS- are essential

AbigailB | January 31, 2013

Personally, I believe that these characteristics ARE the bare minimum for being even a decent teacher. That may be because my background is in elementary education, but I was taught that these were just the things you did. I had to go above any beyond all of these tips to truly be a great teacher. Always strive to be better than the minimum.

AbigailB | January 31, 2013

I agree with this completely. As adults students must take charge of their own learning. As instructors we do our best to provide learning experiences, but if the student doesn't want to take charge and learn, they're not going to.

Dr Ramanand Yadav | February 3, 2013

A great teacher is an accepted personality to the learner. Personally, I believe that every accepted teacher is a self made person, understand the learners more, devote significant quality time on self learning and imparts the relevant learning to make it the part of the learners culture.

Dr, Bruce Francis | February 22, 2013

Superb article! I work with Maria in the doctoral program at Capella and can tell you that she embodies all of the characteristics she writes about in her work with our learners. A gifted colleague who 'walks the talk'. It is an honor to work with her.

Ralph Shibley | February 22, 2013

This is one of those articles that needs to find its way to the teacher training programs both via the instructor and by providing a copy of this document to the learners. I don't think one can move forward and make a difference in the lives of the learners without what Maria has described and presented to us. This is exceptional and so on target. Terrific job Maria. I can't wait to read your next work.

Maria | February 24, 2013

Thank you Ralph!

Chilet DIMAYA | May 9, 2013

This is a great article. I would like to share it with my colleagues in a teacher's in – service training. May I have your permission, Maria? And of course the rest of you who contributed through your wonderful comments, may I quote you guys? I'm sure this will help them improve their teaching and inspire them to do so during the coming school year. IThank you very much everybody.You make me feel that teachers really, really care. THANK YOU!!

hadilekoubida | June 6, 2013

A great teacher should always remember that he/she is a human being and he/she is dealing with human beings too, and that he/she is the adult while the learners ,especially in first stages ,are younger than him/her and then need our care, exactly as parents with their kids .THANK YOU!!

Home learning | June 18, 2013

Firstly a Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. A person with experience can present anything in a better way. The characteristics of a good teacher you have discussed are the key characteristics of any teacher. A teacher having urge to teach and help students in learning and collaborate with them can be successful teacher. A good teacher always keep himself/herself on the road of learning. Having these qualities a teacher can produce good students for their nation.

bakhtiar | July 15, 2013

learning is a power how u treat it in the class

S'idu Uba | September 2, 2013

a great teacher also is one who knows and can identify all problem of his students.

Gafoor | September 4, 2013

Great teacher is usually born out of experience.Teaching is nothing but reaching in to the child , if you could do it you will be ever remembered and respected

nihad bsharat | September 9, 2013

Teachers are great messengers;their mission is to grow well seeds in order to harvest better crops; so they have to help their students grow despite their pitfalls


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