The 5 Qualities of a Good Teacher
By Brian Miller, Secondary Principal
I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.
– Haim Ginott
What are the qualities of a teacher? Or more to the point, what are the qualities of a good teacher? A teacher who’s good at their craft can make a big difference in kids’ lives. But what is their craft? What are the essential skills and talents that make a good teacher?
Sure, there’s some things that are universally true when we talk about what it means to be a good teacher, but there are some subtle differences too when it comes to bringing the best out of a preschooler as compared to a senior in high school.
For example, working with kids from birth to 8 years of age, most early childhood educators are responsible for teaching listening, talking, reading and writing while also attending to the social, emotional, and physical development of students in the developmental stages of life.
For students in grades 1 through 6, however, elementary school teachers play a pivotal role in a child’s life by helping them shape their foundational understanding of themselves and the world. Elementary teachers help students develop skills they’ll use inside and outside the classroom by overseeing their cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Middle school teachers are often responsible for grades seven and eight, but it can also include sixth. Middle school educators are not only teachers, they are unofficial therapists, stand-in parents, mentors, counselors, and disciplinarians. They are the guide that walks their students across the awkward bridge of adolescence into young adulthood.
Lastly, high school educators have a talent for communicating with young people and a natural gift for motivating adolescents to achieve academic and socioemotional excellence.
Although teachers of different ages have unique responsibilities, the top qualities of what makes a good teacher are virtually the same. And they may not be what you think. But what are they? What are the most important qualities of a good teacher?
To be a good teacher, loving kids and wanting to make a difference, although important, isn’t enough. Neither is having content knowledge, strong classroom management, and sound teaching pedagogy. These components are essential to teaching and learning, but they are not the key ingredients to a good teacher. They are mere steps in the process. Like following the recipe for chocolate cake, teachers can follow all the instructions, step by step, and produce a tangible and recognizable product. It takes a baker, however, to make that cake exceptional.
Teaching is no different. You can create the appropriate steps of a lesson plan, engage in intriguing activities, and follow the script of a tutiful teacher and produce incredible results in students. It takes a good teacher to make their classroom exceptional.
Here are the top characteristics of a good teacher.
1 – Humility and a Desire to Improve are Key Qualities of Any Good Teacher
To be a good teacher, you must have an unwavering desire to improve. There is nothing more destructive to a teacher than the belief that they have arrived because it drastically limits their growth. The ability to acknowledge your limitations and either ask for or receive help from others is essential to the mindset and habits of a quality teacher.
Nobody expects teachers to be perfect. Learning early – and often – that mistakes will happen and that there are always ways to improve not only alleviates the pressure of perfection, it provides teachers ample opportunities to improve their craft and create authentic learning opportunities for their students. When teachers can acknowledge failure and model change and improvement, they model what it means to be a life-long learner and at the same time provide a safe and natural learning environment for themselves and their students.
2 – Mentorship and Accountability are a Necessary Part of Being a Teacher
Good teachers understand that they need a community of other teachers (preferably older teachers) in their lives, providing encouragement, insight, and guidance. They also understand that they need accountability.
Mentorship is essential to a good teacher because it helps save young teachers a great deal of time and energy. Be it by helping them avoid pitfalls, providing collected nuggets of truth or resources about their teaching journey, or simply encouraging them through difficult yet common teaching experiences, mentorships build solid and trusted foundations for teachers that allow them to grow and endure. This kind of experience really helps in developing the qualities of a good teacher.
Accountability is an essential to the makeup of a good teacher because it provides direction and allows for refinement. If there is no accountability, there are no boundaries or expectations. And when there are no boundaries or expectations, there is no growth. Good teachers want structure and guidance because then they know what to expect, which allows them to focus on what they know rather than waste their time trying to decipher what is wanted, what is needed.
And, when necessary, good teachers treasure accountability.
There is nothing more demoralizing to good teachers than when bad teachers are not held accountable. And there is nothing more destructive to bad teachers than the allowance of bad and destructive behaviors. A school that has little to no accountability fosters an unhealthy environment of apathy and chaos. Good teachers need accountability. For themselves and in others because teaching is a radically demanding and critical profession. Without accountability there would be no guidance, advancement, no growth, and no quality teachers.
3 – Work Ethic and Grit are Also Important Characteristics of a Good Teacher
“As much as talent counts,” Angela Duckworth writes in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, “effort counts twice.”
Teaching is an exhausting profession. Mentally, physically, spiritually, and relationally. It tests your faith in humanity, and in yourself. Good teachers do not rely upon skills and charisma alone. They work hard. And they endure.
One of the most important qualities of a good teacher, then, is the ability to wake up each morning, work hard, and care deeply. Good teachers continue to show up with quality lesson plans, assessment-driven instruction, and an attitude of continued growth. They leave their frustrations and disappointments at the door of their classrooms and teach like their hair’s on fire.
What makes a good teacher is not their natural ability (although that helps), it is what they do with their natural ability and how they endure hardships. Taking responsibility, surrounding yourself with quality mentors, and waking up each day with grit and determination are essential qualities to becoming a good teacher.
So too is being grounded in solid principles.
4 – Strong Principles Form the Basis of a Teacher’s Character
Good teachers are also good people. They don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Nor do they cut corners or chase the wind. They lay foundations.
As any educator will attest, education is a revolving door of best practices, curriculum, initiatives, and leadership. Good teachers understand this and therefore do not bind themselves to anything other than their principles. Principles such as honesty and integrity, kindness and diligence, trustworthiness and vulnerability. When teachers build foundations of solid principles, they can be successful no matter the circumstance because principles do not shift and change with the winds of change, they are constant and enduring. They provide the teacher confidence and direction amidst the storms, and they encourage others to do the same.
Principles provide good teachers clarity, direction, and confidence. Clarity for when a frustrated parent questions your decision making on content or discipline, direction for when a supervisor asks, requires, or hints at an expectation that seems a bit off, and confidence to live, teach, and move forward. Without clearly defined principles, teachers (and especially new teachers) will be turned and tossed by the winds of change and persuasion. Good teachers stand strong, building their teaching strategies and professional careers upon the solid foundation of principles.
5 – A Good Teacher Contributes to a Strong Support System
Lastly, good teachers must have a strong support system. A teacher can excel at all these other things, but without support, without confidence in their leadership and surrounding team, they will struggle. Without support, teachers will crumble under the weight of loneliness, fatigue, and lack of purpose. Support provides a safety net for teachers, encouraging them to try new things and to be vulnerable about their mistakes and shortcomings – which in turn allows them a space to receive help. Proper support is what allows teachers to wade through difficult initiatives, endure hard days, and push forward. Without support, teachers close their doors and isolate themselves. They become islands unto themselves rather than a supportive, open community.
These are the characteristics of a teacher. Yet, when considering a school, teachers often look first at their paychecks and insurance. They scout out the school, their classroom, and ask about the culture of students. Rarely do they consider the support system in place. Good teachers understand the importance of support as well as the need to constantly ask the question, “what qualities make a good teacher?” Then, they make decisions accordingly.
The qualities of a good teacher are essential for creating a full and healthy teacher, which in turn provides a full and healthy classroom for students. Teachers are the decisive element in the classroom. They create climates and decide the weather. Which is why it is so very crucial that teachers understand the essential qualities that help mold and shape them into good teachers. Because education depends upon it. So do students.