What Makes a Great Teacher?

As I sit here toward the end of the week, I am reflecting on all the planning, lessons, teaching, and grading that took place within one week. I find myself reflecting at this point of the week, every week. I am tired, overwhelmed and feeling defeated. I should have done this…I could have done this with that lesson…I wish I had thought of that…If I had only tried this…I forgot to answer Johnny’s question about that…

All these thoughts had me go deeper into “What makes a great teacher?” Is it all the backward planning for lessons and units? Is it the hours of teaching and facilitating lessons? How about the assignments that were turned in and then graded with “valuable” feedback? What makes a teacher stand out as a remarkable teacher that students will remember?

While all of that planning does play a huge role in a teacher’s daily life, I believe that it’s all the small stuff we do during the day that makes for a great teacher. The unnoticeable things: The conversations, the questions, the comforting of students, the listening to student concerns or silly stories, etc. It’s all the little things that we don’t even think about that makes our days complete. I recently read a blog about why teachers are so tired. I 100% agree with what was stated. Teachers are forever balancing 10 things on their plate at a time and are continuously thinking and problem solving throughout the day. It was described as “Decision, Fatigue, and Willpower”.

There are days when we are on top and feeling confident in everything we are doing. Then there are the days when we are pondering what we are doing as a teacher. The mood can change by the hour as well. While I was on the latter side of that thought, I created a list of “What Makes A Great Teacher” and would like to share it with you.

9 Traits of a Great Teacher

  1. Patience. There will be many times in your day where you have to take a deep breath before you handle a situation. It may be the 5th time you have had to take that breath in the last 5 minutes because at least 5 students have asked you the same question about the directions that you have just given 5 minutes ago. It may also be as simple as trying to get a lesson or unit to flow the way you want it to. Either way, have patience and know that all that hard work benefits those students as they become upstanding citizens within a few years.
  2. Flexibility. It is OK to change your lesson when you see fit. It is OK to scrap an idea because it wasn’t working. It is OK to try new things and experiment with new ideas (call it a pilot program). It is OK to change your style and learn new ways of teaching. The best teachers are the ones who make lessons new, fun, and engaging. In order to do that, you have to try new things to see what works with your students and what doesn’t.
  3. Caring. Show interest in your students. Get to know them. Care about their feelings. Take time to notice their attitudes and moods. The best teachers notice and ask questions as to how their student’s day is going. They also ask if there is anything they can do to help them. Acknowledge that you see them and understand their ups and downs. Every day you have the chance to make that child’s day and to make them feel special and welcomed. You never know what home is like, what happened that morning or night before.
  4. Being positive and having a smile. It is amazing at what a smile can do. When you make eye contact with someone in the school, smile, and greet them. It makes for a much happier environment and teaches students how to respect others. I was once told that teaching is just like acting. No matter what is going on in your personal life, teaching is your stage. Smile and make it the best day for those students. Teach them how to look at the positive side of things. Being mindful and finding positives in situations or conflicts is an outstanding skill to model and teach our students.
  5. Finding teachers that understand and inspire you. You need a sounding board—a group of peers you can bounce ideas off of and go to when you need a break. Those support systems keep you going and push you to be the best teacher you can be. They let you know that you’re not crazy, but a teacher, and this is what we do.
  6. Be Human.
  7. Be Genuine.
  8. Be available.
  9. Be you.

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