Monday, June 27, 2011

What Are the 12 Qualities of a Good Teacher?

So before you read this blog post, take a few moments to answer that question for yourself. Maybe you don’t have 12, maybe you just have a couple of major ideas...but what comes to your mind when I ask “What makes a good teacher?”

I'll give you a minute...

This question was raised for me under the headline “The 12 Qualities of a Good Teacher,” which in turn was a link to a blog post in Chris Lehmann’s Practical Theory blog.  A week and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about Lehmann’s approach to entrepreneurship in education that I thought was really inspirational, so I expected his take on teacher excellence to be enlightening.

However, just as I asked you to do, I tried coming up with my own list of the 12 qualities of good teachers. Here is what popped up in my mind in the order that they occurred to me, with a little explanation what they mean:

Caring--Teachers have to care about the kids and about their education. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Compassionate--Compassion goes beyond caring about the kids, but being able to empathize with their issues, their struggles, their worries, etc., whether directly related to the topic or subject area or not.

Creative--This is a favorite of mine. I think teachers should fine new and interesting ways to convey old and often well-worn truths...and brand-new ones as well.

Competent--Teachers must have a certain level of expertise, both in the subject area and in teaching capacity.

Organized--As much as I hate it, I can’t teach effectively unless I plan, I keep records, I order books or supplies in time for them to arrive by the class on that topic, I can find the books or supplies I already own in time for the class, and I get the right papers and materials to the right classes.

Good Communicator--Teachers these days are being called upon to communicate in more and more ways....not just speaking and writing, but producing podcasts and videos and blogging and tweeting. So it’s tough, and getting tougher. But how are you going to teach if you can’t get your point across? And being a good communicator is not just a one-way thing; it means being a good listener as well.

Flexible--Teachers plan, yes....but when stuff that wasn’t in the plan shows up, as is going to happen with children (really, with humans of any age, but more so when they are younger humans), they have to be able to take it in stride and deal with it.

Committed--Let’s face it--teaching is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a lot of work, and usually the benefits are not immediately evident. As the Chinese say, “One generation plants the tree, and another gets the shade.” You have to be willing to plant and plant and plant, and trust the shade will show up in months or even years to come.

Lifelong Learner--Why would we expect children to be willing to do the work of learning something new if we aren’t willing to do so ourselves? Plus, I'm convinced that the best teachers are the ones who love learning themselves.

Open minded--Personally, I think if teachers think they’ve got all the answers, or they’ve got everything figured out, or they are right all the time, then they are doomed.

Fair and respectful between and to students--Teachers need to respect students’ ideas and wishes and ways of doing things. They can’t always be accommodated, but they should not be dismissed out of hand.  No matter how young they are, they have a level of control of their own lives that no one can--or should--overrule.  And, of course, to the best of their abilities, they should not treat students differently in a way that disadvantages some compared to others.

Curious--Ideally, teachers never lose that urge to ask “Why?” or “Why not?” or “What if?”

Correct Priorities--This is one of my biggest gripes about modern institutionalized education. We are so busy measuring the tangible that we have no time to make the ineffable blossom. But it is those ineffable things--our loves, our passions, our beliefs, our unique personalities, our creativity, our faiths--that determine the success of humanity. Teachers must teach the tangible, but shouldn’t lose sight of bigger picture of making their students happy, fulfilled people.

After I came up with my list, I reviewed Lehmann’s top 12 qualities, which in his own words are:
So what makes a great teacher?
1) Passion for teaching.

2) Love of kids. 
3) Love of their subject.

4) Understand of the role of a school in a child's life.

5) A willingness to change. ... If you expect kids to be changed by their interaction with you, it's got to be a two-way street. 
6) A work-ethic that doesn't quit.

7) A willingness to reflect.

8) Organization.

9) Understanding that being a "great teacher" is a constant struggle to always improve.

10) Enough ego to survive the hard days.

11) Enough humility to remember it's not about you. It's about the kids.

12) A willingness to work collaboratively.

To see the actual blog post, where he explains these in more detail, read his blog post.

I see a lot of similarities in our lists, and can trace of lot of differences to the disparate settings in which we teach. My perspective is that of a homeschooling mom, while Lehnmann runs an innovative high school, The Science Leadership Academy, which is partnership effort between the Philadelphia school system and the Franklin Institute.

Finally, I thought I should get a student’s view of all this, so I asked my son for his list. These were his top qualities for a good teacher:
  • Know how to deal with kids
  • Being a mom
  • Being nice and kind to people
  • Being experienced in teaching and in the subject
  • Has loose discipline, but not too loose
  • Is overcompetent and overachieving (Note:  he explained that this means putting a lot of work into lesson planning and preparation...more work than he thinks he would be willing to do.)
  • Can improvise
  • Follows students ideas, interests, passions, and skills
  • Teaches each kid differently (individualizes instruction)
  • Cares about kids
Again, it is interesting to notice the overlaps and gaps between his list and ours.

How about you? Did you have some desired qualities that we left off our list? Please share your top teaching qualities lists or characteristics in the comments below.


  1. Answering without reading:

    1 - Reflective pause
    2 - Total "yes" (figuring out how to put what students do to meaningful use, never discarding any of the student actions)
    3 - Constant learning
    4 - Constant work (other than teaching), multi-faceted activities and knowledge
    5 - Solid knowledge of psychology, the ability to apply it quickly
    6 - Fast reaction in general
    7 - Deep knowledge of the subject and related ones
    8 - Social and networking fluency
    9 - Strong understanding of the meaning of life

    (this is not a complete list, just some qualities that came to mind today)

  2. Oh, those are some great ones, Maria. Of course, they all describe you perfectly!