What makes a great teacher?

teacher-clip-art-20286757I’ve been involved with learning and teaching since I was six  years old.  As a student, I encountered  the usual range of teaching styles and abilities, and I was influenced by a few outstanding teachers who inspired me to enter the educational profession.  When I became a teacher, I strove to emulate those teachers.  When I advanced to an administrative position, one of my main responsibilities was overseeing faculty. I had to employ a set of criteria that included not only a knowledge base, but also classroom management.  I found that most teachers were satisfactory, and a few were outstanding.  So the question remains: What separates good teachers from great ones–the ones students remember for a lifetime? A recent article in the Atlantic asks the question–Are great teachers born or made?

First, those who consider teaching a vocation rather than a job have an advantage over their colleagues.  They select the profession rather than “falling back” on it as a default. Of course, they need to have mastery of the subjects that they teach.  This means more than receiving an A in a college course or major, but rather a lifelong commitment to expand their knowledge base.  Admittedly, someone can have an interest in a subject but be unable to impart information in a meaningful way.  Teacher need to relate to their students, so that they can engage them in learning.  So, a major component in successful teaching is the personality of the teacher.  Having completed a significant number of methodology courses, I can say with some authority that none addressed that critical aspect of teaching.  Sure, one can learn techniques for classroom management and lesson planning, but  can a course can impart personality and infuse charisma–unlikely! The final statement from the Atlantic article declares: “Better training could certainly make many mediocre teachers competent, but it’s less likely to make competent teachers extraordinary.”  I agree!


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