Essential Qualities of a Good Teacher

Teachers Need to be Self-Aware, Perceptive, and Knowledgeable

Illustration depicting the qualities of a good teacher

ThoughtCo.

Educational studies suggest that the essential qualities of good teachers include the ability to be self-aware of one's biases; to perceive, understand and accept differences in others; to analyze and diagnose student understanding and adapt as required; to negotiate and take risks in their teaching; and to have a strong conceptual understanding of their subject matter.

Measurable and Measuring

Most teachers are paid according to their experience and educational attainment, but as educator Thomas Luschei has demonstrated, there is little evidence that more than 3-5 years of experience boost teachers' ability to increase student test scores or grades. Other measurable attributes such as how well the teachers did on their qualifying examinations, or what level of education a teacher has attained also do not significantly impact the student's performance in classrooms.

So although there is little consensus in the education profession about which measurable features make a good teacher, several studies have identified inherent traits and practices which assist teachers in reaching their students.

To Be Self-Aware

American teacher-educator Stephanie Kay Sachs believes that an effective teacher needs to have a basic sociocultural awareness of and acceptance of their own and other's cultural identity. Teachers need to be able to facilitate the development of a positive self-ethnic identity and be aware their own personal biases and prejudices. They should use self-inquiry to examine the relationship between their fundamental values, attitudes, and beliefs, particularly with regard to their teaching. This inner bias affects all interactions with students but does not prohibit teachers from learning from their students or vice versa.

Educator Catherine Carter adds that an effective way for teachers to understand their processes and motivation is to define an apt metaphor for the role they perform. For example, she says, some teachers think of themselves as gardeners, potters shaping clay, mechanics working on engines, business managers, or workshop artists, supervising other artists in their growth.

To Perceive, Understand and Value Differences

Teachers who understand their own biases says Sachs, are in a better position to view their students' experiences as valuable and meaningful and integrate the realities of the students' lives, experiences, and cultures into the classroom and subject matter.

The effective teacher builds perceptions of her own personal influence and power over factors that contribute to student learning. In addition, she must build conceptual interpersonal skills to respond to the complexities of the school environment. The experiences of both teachers and students with individuals of differing social, ethnic, cultural, and geographic backgrounds can serve as a lens through which future interactions can be viewed.

To Analyze and Diagnose Student Learning

Teacher Richard S. Prawat suggests that teachers must be able to pay close attention to student's learning processes, to analyze how students are learning and diagnose issues that prevent understanding. Assessments must be undertaken not on tests per se, but rather as the teachers engage students in active learning, allowing debate, discussion, research, writing, evaluation, and experimentation.

Compiling results from a report of the Committee on Teacher Education for the National Academy of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond and Joan Baratz-Snowden suggest teachers must make their expectations for high-quality work known, and provide constant feedback as they revise their work towards these standards. In the end, the goal is to create a well-functioning, respectful classroom that allows students to work productively.

To Negotiate and Take Risks in Teaching

Sachs suggests that building on the ability to perceive where students are failing to fully understand, an effective teacher must not be afraid to seek out tasks for herself and the students that are optimal for their skills and abilities, recognizing that those efforts may not be successful. These teachers are the pioneers and trailblazers, she says, individuals who are challenge-oriented.

Negotiation involves moving students in a certain direction, towards a view of reality which is shared by those in the disciplinary community. At the same time, teachers must recognize when some obstacles to such learning are misconceptions or faulty reasoning which need to be highlighted, or when a child is simply using her own informal ways of knowing which should be encouraged. This, says Prawat, is the essential paradox of teaching: to challenge the child with new ways of thinking, but negotiate a way for that student to not dismiss alternate ideas. Overcoming these obstacles must be a collaborative enterprise between student and teacher, where uncertainty and conflict are important, growth-producing commodities.

To Have a Depth of Subject Matter Knowledge

Particularly in the maths and sciences, educator Prawat stresses that teachers need to have rich networks of knowledge in their subject matter, organized around key ideas that could provide a conceptual basis for understanding.

Teachers obtain that by bringing focus and coherence to the subject matter and allowing themselves to be more conceptual in their approach to learning. In this manner, they transform it into something meaningful for students.

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