What makes a good teacher?
This article  outlines some of the different qualities a good teacher may have. Following this, the next step will ask you to reflect on your own teachers you have experienced in your own education.
Think back to your own time in schools. Who did you think was a good teacher and why? Was this related to the subject area, the resources used or the relationship that you, or your class, had with this teacher? Spend a minute or two thinking about this as this will help you to think about what matters to you and about the kind of teacher you might become.
In essence, teaching is about human relationships. That’s what makes the job so interesting because people, and the situations that we find ourselves in, are all different. Communication is a key part of developing and sustaining relationships in the classroom. However, communication involves far more than the use of words. Communication is about the use of body language, where and how you sit or stand and how welcoming and encouraging you are in conveying to a learner that she or he matters and that their ideas, beliefs and feelings are important. The tone of voice you use can convey enthusiasm and interest; it is not only what you say, it is the way that you say this. This does not mean that content is unimportant. Teachers need to have good subject knowledge and a real interest in their own discipline or subject area or, in the case of primary teaching, an interest in laying the foundations for learning across the curriculum. Good teaching involves making the concepts that you understand and the skills and knowledge that you have accessible to learners. Teachers need to know about how to teach their subject - referred to as pedagogical knowledge. This can involve them in knowing what the likely misconceptions are: for example, in science, young children tend to think that small items will float in water whereas larger items will sink. The teacher can challenge this belief by offering small dense objects that will sink and larger, less dense ones that will float.
This means that teachers have to challenge learners’ existing ideas and intuitive beliefs - this can be an uncomfortable process for learners, as they have to move from previous certainties into unknown territories. Good teachers recognise the need to challenge learners whilst also being sensitive to the fact that this can shake their confidence in themselves and the world.
Good teachers are always sensitive to the needs of their classes and the individuals within them. They recognise when children need time to reflect and think and when they need the stimulation of new ideas. They understand that the time of day, the weather, the stage in the term and events outside the classroom all have an impact on learners’ abilities to engage with learning and take account of this in their planning. They are also flexible and able to respond to changing situations.
Some learners have particular needs, related to health, educational needs and family circumstances and good teachers think carefully about how to support these learners and meet their individual needs whilst continuing to develop learners’ independence.
Good teachers know about their subject and can choose from a range of teaching strategies that will suit the needs of their particular class. They draw upon all these elements to plan interesting and engaging lessons in which there are opportunities to learn. They are creative and encourage learners to be creative, too. As they teach, they observe and assess what children are doing and saying, and tailor their own responses accordingly, so they need to be good at noticing detail.
Good teachers think about how their classroom and the learning environment for the children is organised so that materials are accessible, displays are informative or celebrate children’s work and a range of quality resources are available to handle and use. The emotional and social aspects of the learning environment are also important: the taking of the risks that learning involves is valued. Each child should feel unique and of worth, within a caring community and ethos in which good behaviour is expected as the norm. Good teachers expect that every child will learn whilst in their care.
Good teachers communicate with others, beyond their own classroom. They are happy to work within teams, sharing their ideas with colleagues and to learn from them, as well as their own learners. They understand and respect the importance of parents and carers in supporting the development of children and young people and take time to communicate with them regularly.
Good teachers attend to their own development and learning, too. They continue to think, ask questions and to try new approaches. Good teachers work hard but have a life beyond school.
Good teachers understand how amazing and special their job is, no matter how tiring or challenging it may be, at times. Good teachers have passion and a little bit of magic about them. That is why people remember them. Will those who you teach remember you? If they do, what will they remember?
Sometimes, it is the small things that make a difference: the smile in a morning, the fun activities, the sharing of a special book or the fact that there was someone to talk to when they most needed it. Good teachers are all different but they each put their heart and soul into this, the most special of jobs.
- Dr Palmer P. Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, Manchester Metropolitan University.