You and I and a couple million other people have all been in schools for a number of years, and we all have some pretty good ideas about the qualities we feel are important for good teaching. Not surprising, several agencies and organizations have looked into the characteristics of good teachers. One of those is the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).
The INTASC establishes guidelines for preparing, licensing, and certifying educators. Among other things, they promote 10 standards that should be part of every teacher's classroom practice or personality (after some principles I have listed articles that address the specific topics):
Principle 1. The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the discipline(s) he or she teaches and can create learning experiences that make these aspects of subject matter meaningful for students.
Principle 2. The teacher understands how children learn and develop and can provide learning opportunities that support their intellectual, social, and personal development (Effective Learning and How Students Learn).
Principle 3. The teacher understands how students differ in their approaches to learning and creates instructional opportunities that are adapted to diverse learners (How Students Learn and Teaching Special Needs Students).
Principle 4. The teacher understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies to encourage students' development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and performance skills (Lesson Methodologies and Problem Solving).
Principle 5. The teacher uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation (What Is Cooperative Learning, and What Does It Do? and Motivating Your Students).
Principle 6. The teacher uses knowledge of effective verbal, nonverbal, and media communication techniques to foster active inquiry, collaboration, and supportive interaction in the classroom (Lesson Methodologies and Levels of Questions).
Principle 8. The teacher understands and uses formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the learner (Categories of Evaluation).
Principle 9. The teacher is a reflective practitioner who continually evaluates the effects of his or her choices and actions on others (students, parents, and other professionals in the learning community) and who actively seeks out opportunities to grow professionally.
Principle 10. The teacher fosters relationships with school colleagues, parents, and agencies in the larger community to support students' learning and well-being (Special Projects, Special Events).
It's important to point out that your effectiveness as a teacher depends on much more than your knowledge of one or more subjects. In fact, your success will be driven by characteristics and dynamics that are as much a part of who you are as they are of your classroom behavior.
Conversations with hundreds of teachers around the country indicate that good teachers are effective because they assume five interrelated roles:
You as a person
I invite you to consider these roles in terms of your own personality dynamics as well as in terms of your reasons for becoming a teacher.
You as a Person
The reasons you are a teacher are undoubtedly many. Who you are as a person and how you would like to share your personality with students are significant factors in why you choose to be a teacher. So, too, will they be significant in terms of your success in the classroom. My own experience with hundreds of teachers has taught me that the personality of a teacher is a major and predominant factor in the success of students within that teacher's influence.
Joy to the World
Good classroom teachers are joyful. They relish in the thrill of discovery and the natural curiosity of students. They are excited about learning and often transmit that excitement to their students. They are stimulated by the unknown and are amazed at what can be learned, not just at what is learned.
Students consistently rate teachers high when humor is part of the classroom environment. This humor does not come from telling lots of jokes, but rather from the good-natured conversations and discussions carried on with students. Humor helps break down conversational barriers, establishes good rapport, and builds strong classroom communities.
You should be passionate. Good teachers are good because they not only have a love for children, but they also have a passion for the subjects they teach. If you're passionate about teaching, your students will know immediately. If you're less than excited about what you're doing, students will be able to determine that very rapidly, too. Your passion for teaching must be evident in everything you do.
I Wonder Why …
Effective teachers are inquisitive. They continuously ask questions, looking for new explanations and myriad new answers. They serve as positive role models for students, helping them ask their own questions for exploration. They are content with not finding all the answers but rather with developing a classroom environment in which self-initiated questioning (by both teacher and students) predominates.
Good teachers are also creative. They're willing to explore new dimensions and seek new possibilities — never sure of what lies around the corner or down the next path. They're willing to experiment and try new approaches to learning — not because they've been done before but simply because they've never been tried at all.
Outstanding teachers seek help from others. They talk about new strategies with colleagues, seek input from administrators and education experts, read lots of educational magazines and periodicals, and access websites frequently. They don't try to go it alone.
Effective teachers are change-makers. They're not afraid of change and realize that change can be a positive element in every classroom. If something isn't working, these teachers are eager to strike out into new territories for exploration. They're never content with status quo; their classrooms are always evolving, always in a state of transition.
I have interviewed scores of teachers all over the United States, from Maine to California and from Oregon to Florida — and a lot of places in between. I wanted to get their thoughts and impressions of good teaching and the characteristics they felt are essential in a quality-based classroom program.
To a person, they all told me the same thing: the number-one characteristic of a good teacher is flexibility or the ability to roll with the punches and not let the little things get you down.
It might come as no surprise to you, but there's no such thing as an average or typical day in teaching. Students come and go, clocks and other machines break, parents drop in unexpectedly, administrators have reports to file, meetings are scheduled at the last minute, you forget your lunch or your car gets a flat tire, the film you ordered didn't arrive, and a hundred other things can — and often do — go wrong.
However, it's the flexible teacher — the one who doesn't let these inevitable “roadblocks” get in her or his way — who survives and teaches best in the classroom. Yes, there will be “surprises,” unanticipated and unplanned events, and glitches along the way. But if you are willing to compromise, bend, and adjust, you will give yourself an incredible opportunity to succeed.