I have been involved in education for over 40 years and have taught and led schools in Australia, India, USA, Vietnam and the UAE. As I think back on the memories and experiences of my career I have observed numerous teachers and would like to take this opportunity to share with you what I believe are the characteristics and qualities of a great teacher.
What exactly are the qualities that make a great teacher? What are the skills, talents, and characteristics, and can they be taught or learned? I have read extensively about teacher effectiveness in Australian, British and American contexts and have attempted to summarise the characteristics and qualities that make a teacher effective. Whilst every great teacher has their own special, unique style, I have discovered that there are a number of specific universal qualities that are essential for an educational professional who wants to teach effectively, whether they want to teach in an Primary, Secondary school or university.
- Expert communication skills
- Superior listening skills
- Good classroom management skills
- Deep knowledge and passion for their subject matter
- The ability to build caring relationships with students, parents and peers
- Friendliness and approachability
- Excellent preparation and organization skills
- Strong work ethic
- 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 and the ability to multitask), these are the qualities that great teachers universally possess.
Excellent Communication Skills
You’d think that the most important quality for a teacher to possess would be knowledge, since that is what the job is about after all: sharing knowledge. But no matter how knowledgeable a person is, if they can’t convey what they know to others in a way that is both understandable and engaging, the knowledge itself is useless.
Superior Listening Skills
In addition to being good communicators, great teachers usually are excellent listeners. 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). 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.
Good Classroom Management Skills
A great teacher can ensure good student behavior, effective study and work habits, and an overall sense of respect exists in the classroom.
Deep Knowledge of and Passion for the Subject Matter
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. Great 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.
The Ability to Develop Strong Relationships With Students, Parents and Peers
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.
In order to create successful learning environments, great teachers need to be able to build caring relationships with their students.
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. Great teachers understand the need for partnerships and reach out to parents and the wider community to strengthen school / community relationships.
School leaders, teachers, parents, and students all contribute to the learning community and this participation and collaboration provides the framework for student and institutional achievement.
Friendliness and Approachability
Great teachers are open, welcoming, and easy to approach. Students often need clarification of concepts and answers to questions. Sometimes a shy student may feel shy and unable to contribute within the class setting but finds it easier to approach the teacher privately to seek guidance and advice. Great teachers can be mentors and coaches as well as facilitators of learning.
Excellent Preparation and Organization Skills
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 lessons, weeks and units in a way that fosters maximum 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.
A Strong Work Ethic
Teachers really want to be great, and they’ll stop at nothing to 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.
High Expectations for All
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.
At RBIS, we recruit highly qualified and experienced teachers who will have an impact on student learning. Our teachers participate in continuous professional development and mentor and coach our students in academics, sporting pursuits and responsible global citizenship.
The role of our school leadership team is to support and empower our teachers in aspiring to be great.