What Makes a Good Teacher?

On a fairly recent choir tour, a few of my former students asked me a thought-provoking question: “What makes a good teacher?” Right away, I thought of the academic content.

  •  A good teacher should really know his or her content area inside and out. He should know it so well that he can explain anything from the text without having to look at a teacher’s guide or answer key. It’s also helpful to have knowledge of additional materials that might not be included in the text, but that you’ve learned from studying.

Then I thought of something else pretty obvious:

  •  A good teacher should also have a desire to teach—to impart knowledge to students—and the ability to make it palatable to them even if they might not think it’s that interesting. That’s harder still, but can be acquired.

And another pretty important aspect is this:

  •  Experience. This gives teachers the ability to handle student misbehavior, parent issues, and administrative directives with confidence. Second best is spending time watching experienced teachers teach, or hearing how they have handled various situations in the past.

Then, I asked my former students the same question: “What do you think makes a good teacher?”

They had two very insightful answers:

  •  Good teachers should really care for and enjoy being with their students (even if they have bad breath and dirty fingernails and stink a bit). The students know if you sincerely care about their grades and themselves personally, and this does make a difference. A huge difference.
  •  Good teachers tell stories that (usually) apply to or relate to the concepts being taught in class. These help students remember the concepts, as well as give them a “brain break” so that they can keep paying attention and don’t zone out, like mine were trying to do recently on the first day back to school after a long spring break.

So, I agree with both the teacher and the student answers, and would encourage us all to strive to acquire all five:

  1.  Content knowledge
  2.  Desire and ability to teach
  3.  Experience
  4.  Sincere concern for students
  5.  Knowledge of and ability to tell stories that relate to content

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