The quality of a student’s education depends mostly on their teacher. Which begs the question: What does it take to be a top-notch teacher? While exceptional educators come from all walks of life and are as diverse as the students they teach, there are several characteristics they share. Truly amazing teachers:
- Think on their feet. Things rarely go as planned, which—when dealing with an entire class—means being flexible is critical. If a specific approach isn’t working, being able to change direction on the spot keeps students engaged. Understanding that things like current events can easily turn into teaching moments and class discussions helps too.
- Clearly state their objective. Making sure students not only know what they’ll be learning but also the why behind it increases their understanding of its value in their lives. Showing students the bigger picture makes them feel more like active participants in their education, as opposed to memorizers waiting for a test.
- Know their subject matter like the back of their hand. Just because this one may seem obvious, doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. When students feel confident in an educator’s understanding of what they’re teaching, it makes them more likely to truly listen and consider what they have to say.
- Care about their students. Genuinely and actively care. Teachers who develop relationships with their students are better able to connect with and understand how to get through to them. Taking a personal interest in them and their lives, creates a level of mutual respect that extends beyond the classroom.
- Not only love teaching, but learning too. Students can tell the difference between teachers whose hearts are in it and those who are just going through the motions—and their attitudes and performance typically follow suit. Teachers who see themselves as lifelong learners can impart their innate sense of discovery and curiosity on their students.
- Have high expectations. Truly invested educators expect a lot from all their students. Even the ones that don’t have high expectations for themselves. Setting the bar high gives students something to reach for. It pushes them to want to live up to those expectations—and gives them a sense of pride when they do.
- Make their classrooms an ‘open space.’ Creating an environment that encourages collaboration, is open to different ideas and feels supportive goes a long way with students. Having a place where they all feel safe, heard and valued allows students to open up to others in return.
- Check their baggage at the classroom door. While everyone has their own issues and things they’re dealing with, being able to compartmentalize those so they don’t encroach on students’ learning experience is critical. Knowing when it’s okay to share personal opinions—and when it’s not—is also an invaluable skill to have.
- Collaborate with their colleagues. Being open to hearing what other teachers are doing in their classrooms and sharing their own successes creates a continuous loop for improvement and refinement. Working with others helps avoid blind spots and pushes educators to try new things.
- Try to see things from their students’ perspective. Understanding students have lives outside of school and are dealing with many pressures beyond the classroom can be incredibly valuable. Looking at situations from a student’s point of view helps make teachers more inclusive and interactive.
Teaching is an incredibly high-demand job that requires balancing a lot of different things at once. With as much as the position requires, most teachers have to continuously work at it to be great. For students—and the rest of us—who benefit from having them, we're all very glad they do.