10 Qualities of Successful Teachers
It seems that any half-wit can get a teaching certificate these days. Unfortunately, I see a lot of half-wits also realize this. Public schools are a mixing pot of teachers who care but stink at teaching, teachers who don’t care and stink at teaching, and awesome teachers who are great because they care and they have a natural inclination toward the profession. When your kid gets assigned a new teacher, you never know what you’re going to get. I overheard an exasperated mother yesterday talking with another lady about her son’s first grade teacher, how the teacher gives him assignments but doesn’t check the answers, or assigns work and grades it but then records the grade wrong in her ledger. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t know if this mom was just disgruntled or if the teacher was really as bad as she was making her out to seem. Whatever the case may be, it did get me thinking about traits that I think every successful teacher should have. Disorganization, for instance, is not acceptable with a classroom of 6 year olds.
1. Enthusiasm: You have to really want to be a teacher in order to be a good one. You have to wake up every day enthusiastic about trying to drum information into a bunch of kids who probably don’t care. But, you know there’ll be no hope at all for those kids unless you can convey enthusiasm for education (that’s a big responsibility). You’ll never motivate a kid if you come into class looking like your dog just died — even if your dog just died.
2. Organization: It’s hard enough to keep my homeschooling supplies and assignments organized. Teachers who aren’t organized are asking for trouble. A large part of a teacher’s job is knowing what to do next, and devising game-plans to get it done.
3. Competence: This should go without saying. However, I once had a history teacher who didn’t seem like he’d ever passed a history class himself. I was just a kid, but even I knew he was an idiot. Everybody else did too. The guy had the respect of no one.
4. Patience: What are you going to do if half your class is ready to learn and the other half is acting like a bunch of wild monkeys? It’s frustrating. Here are some kids who are ready and willing to learn, and over there are kids who are about to ruin your best laid plans. When things go sideways you have to take a deep breath and try again. Also, as a teacher, you’ll need equal helpings of patience to deal with dumb administrators and bureaucracy.
5. Flexibility: You can’t effectively teach every kid using the same technique. You’ll have to know your students (organization) and know the best way to teach each one so that when one asks a question you can answer it in a way that that kid understands best. That takes a good deal of professional education, to have familiarity with different teaching methods. You’re a teaching chameleon.
6. Confidence: Kids will eat you up if you lack confidence. I spent two years as a substitute teacher in the not so great part of Dallas so I know the importance of confidence in the classroom. You’ll have to have a good plan, and you’ll have to stick to it through complaining parents, upset administrators and whiny (or bratty) kids.
7. Eloquence: Do you want to lose the respect of parents? Stand up at a parent teacher conference and stumble over your words. Talk to parents or administrators or the school board with ums and ahhhs and likes and you knows. Speaking skills are a necessity in a lot of jobs, none more so than teaching. If you’re a teacher, and you struggle with it, join a group like Toastmasters. Anybody can be a decent speaker; it just takes practice.
8. Toughness: I don’t know if teachers still give detention or if even that has been taken away as a means of punishment. When kids step out of line teachers have to be there to put them back in line. Teachers can’t get away with 30 kids all having it their way. A tough teacher is an effective teacher. Sure, it’s great to smile and laugh and be fun, but not all the time. Your kids have to know where the line is, and they have to dislike the consequences for crossing said line.
9. Witty/Insightful: Relating information in new and interesting ways is another mark of a good teacher. Explaining a historical concept, for instance, requires a lot of detours along the way. Teachers have to be able to explain all the so-called sights along the way before reaching the destination. They can’t just leap right to Alaric without explaining how a guy like Alaric was possible in his day. And what if your kids don’t know anything about Rome and can’t relate? That’s where your wit and insight come into play. How effectively can you wedge that square peg into the round hole? It might take a little imagination, and teachers who only know how to recite from their teacher’s manual are destined for failure.
10. High Expectations: A few years of constant subpar homework and half assed projects is enough to whittle the spirit and expectations of a lot of good teachers. Some teachers can get through the disappointment with a combination of undying enthusiasm and high standards. It’s a given that not all kids are going to respond, even to good teaching. Their misadventures should not get in the way of expecting greatness from those who can and want to deliver.
Teaching, when taken seriously, is a great and respectable profession. The best teachers can lay claim to being the instruments of progress. Likewise, bad teachers are, at least in part (along with bad parenting), responsible for the decay of intellectual curiosity, which then leads to the fall of civilizations. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? But, it’s true. No matter how desperately your boss wants that TPS report, it’ll be forgotten by tomorrow or next week, and your contribution to the bottom line is, in the grand scheme, insignificant. Government intervention in teaching is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to the profession. All the above mentioned traits would be more common if the teachers who are really good at it were allowed to succeed and the ones who stink were drummed out on the grounds that kids are more important than union benefits and job security. But, that’s a different article.