Years ago, as a young, eager student, I would have told you that a great teacher was someone who provided classroom entertainment and gave very little homework. Needless to say, after many years of K-12 administrative experience and giving hundreds of teacher evaluations, my perspective has changed. My current position as a professor in higher education gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned with current and future school leaders, and allows for some lively discussions among my graduate students in terms of what it means to be a great teacher.
Teaching is hard work and some teachers never grow to be anything better than mediocre. They do the bare minimum required and very little more.
The great teachers, however, work tirelessly to create a challenging, nurturing environment for their students. Great teaching seems to have less to do with our knowledge and skills than with our attitude toward our students, our subject, and our work. Although this list is certainly not all-inclusive, I have narrowed down the many characteristics of a great teacher to those I have found to be the most essential, regardless of the age of the learner:
1. A great teacher respects students
2. A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom.
3. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring.
4. A great teacher sets high expectations for all students
5. A great teacher has his own love of learning and inspires students with his passion for education and for the course material.
6. A great teacher is a skilled leader different from administrative leaders
7. A great teacher can “shift-gears” and is flexible when a lesson isn’t working.
8. A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis.
9. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas—from personal appearance to organizational skills and preparedness for each day.
While teaching is a gift that comes quite naturally for some, others have to work overtime to achieve great teacher status. Yet the payoff is enormous — for both you and your students.
Imagine students thinking of you when they remember that great teacher they had in college!
Dr. Maria Orlando is a core faculty member in the doctoral Educational Leadership and Management Specialization at Capella University. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.