What Makes A Good Teacher?

4 Qualities to Look For

Teacher in Classroom
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We have all seen teachers portrayed in the movies, leading students to greatness and inspiring some of the brightest minds in existence to change the world. This is nothing new, movies have been portraying teachers for decades.

The 1939 film based on the book by James Hilton, established a stock character of an (English) private school teacher. Mr. Chipping was a sweet, rather befuddled old-fashioned teacher in an elite boys' school who learned about human emotion only late in life and who was, despite his clear devotion to his students and to his school, backwards-facing rather than progressive.

How does this relate to today? The modern private school teacher, on the other hand, must combine Mr. Chipping's obvious loyalty and devotion with a constant willingness to embrace the best parts of new technology and curriculum. Here are some qualities that make a good private school teacher:

Quality #1: Classroom Experience

As private school placement experts Cornelia and Jim Iredell of Independent School Placement suggest, the best candidates, and teachers, at private schools have experience working in classroom.

Private schools are different from public schools in some important ways, however, including the smaller class sizes and the culture of the private schools, which often encourage teachers to get to know their students very well. While a good teacher is a good teacher no matter what the setting, it is often helpful for teachers to have experience before leading a classroom in a private school. For example, starting teachers can often work as an assistant or apprentice teacher for a while before becoming a head teacher. Private schools often have a very involved parent body, and a teacher can get used to the curricular demands and the parent body characteristic of many private schools as an assistant before becoming a head teacher.

Quality #2: Life Experience

What is unique to private schools, however, is the fact that many teachers do not have to be certified to teach. Instead, private schools place high value on a teacher's experience outside of the classroom, including a professional career. Learning from those who have lived the life brings a whole new dynamic to the classroom experience. For example, Cheshire Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut, has physics classes taught by an engineer who worked on the first MRI machine and built a camera for the International Space Station.

Quality #3: Innovation

A truly excellent private school teacher must embrace change and innovation. For example, many private schools are constantly changing their curriculum to become more responsive to the needs of today's students and to the future demands that will be placed on students in college. Many private schools have adapted new technology, such as iPads in the classroom. The effective use of these new forms of technology to enhance student learning involves not just possessing them but also often professional development to become truly proficient. In addition, students themselves are such rapid adapters and users of new technology that teachers and other faculty—such as private school librarians—must become conversant with their world.

In addition, many private schools are becoming more aware of how to help the entire student, providing students with psychological help and help with learning differences or learning disabilities. While teachers may not always be trained in these areas, they must know how to recognize when students need help and to connect students with professionals who can help them, such as psychologists or learning specialists, at their schools.

Quality #4: The Human Touch

Some things never change. While teachers must be experts in their area and embrace technology, the magical part of imparting knowledge is letting the students know you as a teacher care about them and their learning. The small class sizes in most private schools mean that teachers can truly connect with their students and get to know them as students and learners. Whenever I speak to students about their teachers, it is remarkable that they most often comment on whether the teacher seems to like them. While adults sometimes think that the personal connection is secondary to be a "good teacher" or a subject-matter expert, kids are really attuned to whether teachers seem to care about them. If a student feels as though a teacher is on his or her side, there are great lengths he or she will go to with regard to mastering the material. In the end, Mr. Chipping had much to teach us about what makes a good private school teacher, as his clear devotion to and love of his students carried him through.


Updated by Stacy Jagodowski