We’ve all known them — that elite group of teachers we deem the great ones. Why are they an elite group? And why don’t all, or at least most, teachers fall into this esteemed category? To attempt to answer those questions, let’s first answer a few others.
Can anyone be a great teacher? Quite simply, no. There are certain attributes a person must embody in order to be a great teacher. Next question — Are great teachers born and not made? Though some people definitely possess an innate “gift” for teaching, most great teachers were not born. They were made!
But it’s a little misleading to say they were made, because this implies that someone else did the work or that there’s some type of magic that’s been bestowed upon them. In actuality, great teachers work very hard to earn their coveted status. There’s no magic involved, but they do seem to work magic every day in their classrooms!
So what are some of the qualities that all great teachers possess?
- At the risk of overstating the obvious, great teachers truly love children! If you don’t love children, you can’t be a great teacher. Period. At the risk of really overstating the obvious, if you don’t love children, you shouldn’t be in education!
- Great teachers are masters at classroom management. They understand the importance of structure. Their management plans consist of clearly stated rules that are enforced fairly, calmly and consistently and of procedures that are practiced until they become routines. Students know what to expect. No surprises!
- Great teachers are intelligent people who possess a thorough understanding of their subject matter. They are not, however, arrogant in their knowledge. Rather, they use their knowledge to simplify what’s complex and to accommodate their students’ individual abilities and levels of understanding.
- Great teachers understand that they are actors on a stage. Yes, actors. They are performers capable of entertaining, capturing and enrapturing their audiences every day. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and they act as though everything they teach is their favorite thing to teach.
- Great teachers are positive, kind, compassionate, patient people. Though they are as human as anyone else, they do not allow students to push their buttons. They handle even the most challenging situations with composure, thoughtfulness and professionalism. They never compromise a student’s dignity.
- Great teachers do not allow their personal problems to bleed into their teaching. In simplest terms, they don’t impose their moods on their students.
- Great teachers are problem solvers. They don’t play the blame game. Nor do they play ostrich, sticking their heads in the sand. They identify problems and immediately get busy finding solutions.
- Great teachers don’t endure change; rather, they ensure it — not simply for the sake of change, but for the betterment of teaching and learning.
- Great teachers have a sense of humor, and they share it daily with their students.
- Great teachers continually strive to make learning fun, relevant, interesting, challenging and engaging. In the classrooms of great teachers, students are encouraged to question, discuss, debate, experiment, invent and make lots of mistakes.
- Great teachers recognize the importance of establishing positive relationships with their students. They subscribe to the belief that in order to teach a student, you must first reach a student. Thus, they get to know their students on a personal level.
- Great teachers have high expectations of all students and truly believe that every student can succeed.
- Great teachers are not perfect teachers. When they make mistakes, they act as good role models do, admitting their mistakes, learning from these mistakes and offering apologies if necessary.
The bottom line is that great teachers are some of the most dedicated and committed people you will ever meet. For them, going the extra mile is just a warm up for the marathon. Not surprisingly, great teachers are also some of the most humble people you will ever meet. They are the real difference-makers in education. Many of them do not even realize just how exceptional they really are. Or if they do, they’re just too darn humble to admit it. But we see you, we know who you are, and we thank you!
Annette Breaux is an internationally-renowned author and speaker. She is the author of the national best-seller “101 Answers for New Teachers and Their Mentors.” She has also co-authored books with Harry Wong and Todd Whitaker. She may be contacted at AnnetteLBreaux@yahoo.com or on Twitter @AnnetteBreaux.