What makes a good teacher in the education world?
Good teacher qualities define those people who are achieving excellent student results. They all have a certain blend of traits. These traits, applied in differing proportions depending upon the make-up of the classroom from year to year, describe an elementary teacher who is doing good things for children’s education.
Of course, everything in this article is all my humble opinion! I certainly expect some disagreement, but I’d like to point out that we are members of a public-service profession with a very high calling – nothing less than the future of civilized society, if you want to get right down to it. (I’m really very humble about our influence, aren’t I?)
Society has high expectations for elementary school teachers. But then, so do we, when our own children start going to school!
To bring this discussion down from my lofty ideals to reality, when it comes right down to it, what makes a good teacher is defined by what’s good for kids.
Are you cut out to be a good teacher?
How do you know if you are suited to becoming an elementary teacher? Well… you just know! It usually boils down to one realization: You love to work with kids. You'd rather become a teacher than do anything else because working around children energizes you rather than wears you out.
But teaching is not just “being around kids” – that's babysitting or being a nanny (both of which require their own set of skills for success). If you've passed the first self-test of loving being in the presence of children every day, you need to move to the second step in self-assessment: What exactly do you like about your relationship with kids?
If you are interested in becoming an elementary teacher, this is a very important question. Let’s look at some effective teacher traits to help answer it.
Good teacher qualities
Are good teachers born with certain “super teacher” characteristics? Do teacher instincts have to come naturally? Absolutely not. Every one of these characteristics can be learned through experience and self-reflection. Whether they come naturally or through life experience, the great teachers – the ones you want to emulate – have the following qualities.
A sense of purpose
Why are you here?
There are many, many people – even well-paid professionals – who hold jobs for the sole purpose of making money. Teaching is not one of those jobs. There is too much at stake. You are privileged to hold a job that directly impacts another human being’s life during their most influential and formative years. You do remember the names of all your elementary school teachers, don’t you?
Putting kids first
For whom are you here? For yourself or for the kids?
I’ve known teachers who use the students in their classroom to fulfill their own emotional needs for attention. In short, they want the kids to like them more than they want the kids to learn from them. Buying attention with constant treats or shunning all exercise of authority are two symptoms.
Again, you are here for the kids, not yourself. Period.
Willingness to take a stand on behalf of children
This really applies when you are fighting for the education of an individual child, such as a student who is being denied special services due to slowness in the qualification process.
Sense of humor
Humor is a universal language that can create solid teacher and student relationships. Look for and appreciate the silliness of kids and the situations they get themselves into, and laugh along with them. Infuse your teaching with humor to maintain their attention. A good sense of humor can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of your job, and sometimes it’s the only thing that will get a teacher through a tough day.
Advanced practitioners of the art of humor will also have no fear of the ridiculous and will feel free to be silly in front of the kids, willing to act out roles for social studies, or do funny voices during teacher read-alouds.
Teaching all curricula
Once you graduate from college with your elementary education diploma, you are certified to teach it all. So here’s the thing: If you have a weak spot when it comes to teaching an area of curriculum, so will your kids. And they’ll be set back. And that’s not okay because it’s really hard for them to catch up.
You will find that some teachers don’t teach everything required by the state for their grade level. These teachers favor subjects they like to teach and give less attention to other subjects. For example, some elementary teachers love to teach reading and social studies and are uncomfortable with teaching math and science. This usually means that, by the end of the school year, their students have not completed all math and science units… and you can’t learn long division in fifth grade if you never mastered subtraction in third grade.
It will not always be easy to keep up with the year-long plan, believe me. Which brings me to the next item…
There is only one way to teach everything that must be taught – planning. Planning is a critical element of teacher success. If lesson planning doesn’t come naturally to you, never fear: I cover it in depth here.
Organization goes hand-in-hand with planning. Even with a great plan, you’ll need an organized room – a place where you and your students can experience an uncluttered learning environment and can find the things needed for learning quickly and easily.
Today’s elementary classroom teacher is expected to be an active partner in grade-level and grade-band planning and brainstorming. Bring good questions and ideas to the table and follow through on your promises; these are the best ways to bring out the collaborative nature in other teachers.
No matter how cut-and-dried a curriculum may be, there is always room for a teacher to add some personal flair. Use your creativity to serve the education process, not as an end in itself.
Good teacher qualities mean that you don’t cut out snowflakes simply for the sake of making something pretty to hang in the classroom, but you do cut them out to examine crystal patterns after capturing real snowflakes on black paper outside (also, they just happen to make really pretty decorations to hang in the classroom!).
Never forget how you were at their age. Maybe you were shy, slow to read, socially awkward, or obnoxious. No matter what kind of kid you were, there is no doubt that you weren’t exactly like everyone else at your age, and you probably weren’t always a joy for adults to be around.
But you also know that you needed teacher influence in your life, even if you resented it or didn’t appreciate it at the time. Now you are that teacher, and each and every kid needs you, whether they realize it or not.
Teaching is the future of everything
And you are the future of teaching! I really mean that. You are setting out on a wonderful journey, and I’m going to do everything I can to help you along the way.