What makes a good teacher?

Teachers. They form a major part of everyone’s life and everyone seems to have an opinion on teaching. Since I am a teacher and I now work as a teacher trainer, I have been wondering: when is someone a good teacher? It was a question I posed to my students and the things they came up with was nowhere in line with what I’m supposed to teach them/ what the government wants. This discrepancy between what students think is a good teacher and what is deemed a professionally good teacher, is frustrating to say the least. I have a quite personal take on this and I am also curious to hear what you think makes or is a good teacher. So leave a comment below, I’m curious!

1.) Knowledge

As a teacher, you have to know your stuff. This can be a bit tricky as different schools use different teaching methods for the same subjects so usually you know how things work, but then you also have to know what the students should know. So knowledge goes both ways. On the one hand you should have a good body of knowledge on the subject you teach, but on the other you also have to know what to teach your students. Usually by going to school, reading books and articles and education yourself on your topic you can get the first part. The second half, what students have to know, requires experience and knowledge of the books and materials that are used to teach the subject. For instance, if you know a lot about English grammar, that’s great, but if you start teaching how to make passives, when actually students have to know present continuous you will run into trouble.

2.) Eye for students’ needs

Apart from know what students have to know, you also have to keep in mind what student want to know. Of course, there is no getting away from the basics, but when students offer you questions or remarks that may lead to a sidetrack you can sometimes get to a completely different level of understanding. Depending on the type of students and subject you teach, taking care of students’ needs also stands for what level you teach and how elaborate your explanations are to which examples you can use in your lessons. You have to have an idea of their preconceptions and don’t just assume that they will already know what you think they know. Some might not and may get lost as a result. On the other hand, students may already be way ahead of you and you will also have to be able to deal with that.

3.) Performance

My students’ requirements for a good teacher? A good sense of humor, entertaining, not boring, likeable etc. etc. Yes, if you ask students what makes a good teacher, you will not likely get answers along the lines of the first two points listed above. They will mostly list personal qualities that have to do with your performance in front of a group. In a way, teachers also have to be actors: you have to be able to present your story not only strong in content and level appropriate, but it also has to be engaging and interesting. You can know a lot, but if you then tell your story with the charisma of an amoebe, chances are your students will turn away from you fairly quickly.

4.) Organization

You have to be organized. In order to keep track of students, exams, different classes, teaching materials as well as colleagues, you have to have some sort of system. Even though I’m a as-little-paper-as-possible person, you can’t go round hand outs, exams, assignments, and other things on paper. I think I spend most of my non-teaching times at my computer answering emails followed by waiting for the printer to be finished.

Another crucial thing is time management. Obviously classes can only last a certain amount of time, so time management definitely comes in there. However it also goes for non class time. Education can be a demanding job. You are not only expected to teach regular hours, but also late at night or you have to show up for talks with parents, open days etc on evenings or weekends. Not to mention the hours you can spend at home answering emails and grading exams. It is absolutely necessary to mark off your ‘free time’ and ‘work time’ right from the start.

5.) People skills

Last but not least you need good people skills. Where in most jobs you deal with your colleagues and the occasional client, as a teacher you are ALWAYS surrounded by people. By your colleagues in your office and a group of students during classes. Naturally, the way you treat your colleagues is different from how you interact with your students. A quick switch is therefore needed. And not only that. In education you deal with so many people from so many different backgrounds (rich/ poor, young/ old, not to mention differences in cultures and languages). This makes the job interesting, but also challenging because student needs may vary accordingly and thus will be reflected in your teaching.

These are my 5 qualities of a good teacher. What are yours?

4 responses to “What makes a good teacher?”

  1. Three things I really liked in my teachers (and thus they were the best teachers for me):
    1.) Approachability – You need to be approachable – so that students who are struggling will ask for help if they needed, you need to make yourself available.
    2.) Understanding – You need to understand that people are different, some students struggle with assignments, others with exams. Or they might be struggle because of something else in their life.
    3.) Respect – I’ve had some teachers who are very strict and if you’re new to their class, you’d probably be a little scared, but actually they worked on a two way respect basis – you give them respect, they’ll respect you. You mess about, bully other students and things – expect them to come down hard on you. Of course in college and university where discipline isn’t such a part of a teachers role this is slightly different, but you get the picture.

  2. I am fully aware of the fact that this comment can come across as a little freaky… so, sorry in advance! I found your blog because you left a comment on a blog that I follow.

    I’ve been your student for a couple of months (or well, weeks actually). I had to quit school due to personal problems but I can honestly say that you are a really good teacher. You were the only one who made me feel as if I could do nothing wrong. I loved that motivational speech you gave us. You told us that it’s ok to make mistakes since we also make them very regularly in Dutch. That made me feel so good. Once I talked about that with other students they said the same thing. You are the only teacher that actually makes us feel as if someone is listening to us and cares about what we think. I know that a lot of students would have prefered it if you could have been their mentor. You connect with your students on a personal level.

    I have no idea why I am saying all of this but something tells me I should, haha.

    • No not freaky at all! I find it really sweet to be honest. I’ve been blogging for over two years and you’re my first student to find this place. 😉 Thanks for the compliments. I’m glad I was a positive influence to you and I hope your next studies will fare better.

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