Top Keys to Being a Successful Teacher

The most successful teachers share some common characteristics. Here are the top six keys to being a successful teacher. Every teacher can benefit from focusing on these important qualities. Success in teaching, as in most areas of life, depends almost entirely on your attitude and your approach.

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Sense of Humor

Teacher helping students
Successful teachers are hands on and have a great sense of humor. Alexander Raths /

A sense of humor can help you become a successful teacher. Your sense of humor can relieve tense classroom situations before they become disruptions. A sense of humor will also make class more enjoyable for your students and possibly make students look forward to attending and paying attention. Most importantly, a sense of humor will allow you to see the joy in life and make you a happier person as you progress through this sometimes stressful career

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A Positive Attitutude

A positive attitude is a great asset in life. You will be thrown many curve balls in life and especially in the teaching profession. A positive attitude will help you cope with these in the best way. For example, you may find out the first day of school that you are teaching Algebra 2 instead of Algebra 1. This would not be an ideal situation, but a teacher with the right attitude would try to focus on getting through the first day without negatively impacting the students.

A positive attitude should also be extended professionally towards peers. A willingness to work with others and not close your door to your fellow teachers are critically important qualities.  

Finally, a positive attitude must be communicated to families of students in high quality communications. The families of your students may be your best partners in developing students for academic success.

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High Academic Expectations

An effective teacher must have high expectations. You should strive to raise the bar for your students. If you expect less effort you will receive less effort. You should work on an attitude that says that you know students can achieve to your level of expectations, thereby giving them a sense of confidence too. This is not to say that you should create unrealistic expectations. However, your expectations will be one of the key factors in helping students learn and achieve.

Many teacher evaluation programs refer to  high academic expectations by using language on specific qualities such as these from the CCT Rubric for effective teaching: 

Prepares instructional content that is aligned with state or district standards, that builds on students’ prior knowledge and that provides for appropriate level of challenge for all students.

Plans instruction to engage students in the content. 

Selects appropriate assessment strategies to monitor student progress.

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Consistency and Fairness

In order to create a positive learning environment your students should know what to expect from you each day. You need to be consistent. This will create a safe learning environment for the students and they will be more likely to succeed. It is amazing that students can adapt to teachers throughout the day that range from strict to easy. However, they will dislike an environment in which the rules are constantly changing.

Many students confuse fairness and consistency. A consistent teacher is the same person from day to day. A fair teacher treats students equally in the same situation. 

Many teacher evaluation programs refer to consistency, especially consistency of preparation, using language on specific qualities such as these from the CCT Rubric for effective teaching: 

Establishes a learning environment that is responsive to and respectful of the learning needs of all students.

Promotes developmentally appropriate standards of behavior that support a productive learning environment for all students. 

Maximizes instructional time through effective management of routines and transitions.

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Engaging Instruction

Student engagement, time on task, motivation...these concepts are critical to effective teaching. Applying these concepts, getting students to participate, means that a teacher is constantly taking the pulse of the class. This allows a teacher to note which students have the skills to continue or which students need more support. 

Many teacher evaluation programs refer to engagement as active learning using language on specific qualities such as these from the CCT Rubric for effective teaching: 

Implements appropriate instructional content for learning for all levels of learners.

Leads students to construct meaning and apply new learning through the use of a variety of differentiated and evidence-based learning strategies.

Includes opportunities for students to work collaboratively to generate their own questions and problem-solving strategies, synthesize and communicate information.

Assesses student learning, providing feedback to students and adjusting instruction.

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Flexibility and Responsiveness

One of the tenets of teaching should be that everything is in a constant state of change. Interruptions and disruptions are the norm and very few days are 'typical'. Therefore, a flexible attitude is important not only for your stress level but also for your students who expect you to be in charge and take control of any situation. 

“Flexibility and responsiveness” can refer to the  teacher’s skill in making adjustments in a lesson in real time to respond any changing conditions. Even skilled veteran teachers will be in a situation when that a lesson is not going as planned, but they may seize on what is going on and respond in what is known as a "teachable moment." This quality mans that a teacher will persist in attempts to engage students in learning, even when confronted with change.

Ultimately,  this quality is measured by a teacher's response to student who does or does not understand.