Teacher Qualities to Look For

Teacher qualities to look for are unlikely to be the same from parents to students to administrators. Everyone generally agrees on: kind, nice, “good teacher”, knows the content, but this is not enough to define a stellar teacher.

During my years as an administrator, on occasion, I’ve had to deal with teachers who were incredibly popular with the parent population, but quite frankly were not great based on the teacher qualities I looked for. Check out also this TEDxGhent video about the five principles of highly effective teachers:

As one who has interviewed hundreds of teacher candidates and filled numerous teacher positions K-12, I look for and will probe a candidate repeatedly in relation to certain qualities/characteristics that I believe are essential to a great teacher. Here are just a few of those teacher qualities:

1. Deep understanding and knowledge of the content. Every great teacher has a deep understanding and knowledge of the content they are teaching. This is a given. After all, who wants an AP Biology teacher who doesn’t have a firm grasp of higher-level concepts of biology?

Yet, I am sure that some of you reading this have had a teacher or two who really didn’t have strong or deep content knowledge or was, for example, reading newspapers in class, and I’m willing to guess that this teacher was probably not the best teacher you ever had.

2. Willingness and skill to build a relationship with every student. Even harder to find sometimes is a teacher who is willing and able to build good relationships with every student. Sure, every teacher can connect with some students, but not every teacher is skilled at finding, making a way to connect with every student.

Sometimes teachers, especially 6-12 teachers who typically teach one subject, like reading, have a genuine passion for their content, but they leave the students in the dust. I’ve walked into classes where the teacher seemed to be passionately giving a discourse about polynomials…to no one but himself.

3. Understanding that there’s more than meets the eye. People are complex human beings; teenagers even more so. When a student acts out in class or repeatedly fails to turn in homework, doesn’t want to understand how to write an essay, or is generally disengaged from learning, there is likely a very good reason that is not visible. Like all people, teachers may also demonstrate some fear of failure or fear of success. This should as well be kept into account as it might be holding them back.

A great teacher will probe further. S/he will ask other teachers who also have the student if they notice the same things. S/he will call home and find out if something has changed in the student’s home life. S/he will take the time to connect with the student privately. S/he will even ask the toughest question–is there something I could do better to engage this student.

4. Ability to give students meaningful feedback. One of the most important things a teacher does for students is to provide feedback regarding their assignments, progress, and learning. When observing a teacher, especially in adult GED classes, I watch how a teacher responds when a student has answered incorrectly or incompletely. GED students just often need more time to come up with a complete or correct answer.

How does the teacher challenge students to deepen their understanding of what needs to be mastered and consistently ties what students actually learn to the learning objective, for example by using the news for teaching purposes?

5. A deep belief that every child can learn. Believe it or not, there are unfortunately some educators out there who don’t believe that every child can learn. This is incredibly sad because at the core of an educator should be a deep, deep belief that every child can learn, also when they prepare for the GED exam. A teacher who holds this belief doesn’t give up, not on a single child. This teacher has grit, tenacity, and has a consistent approach with each student.

6. Team player. Who doesn’t want a team player? Not selfish. Wanting every teacher to be successful because that means that every student is successful. Willing to share ideas–what works and what doesn’t. Embracing that there is no “I” or “me” but instead “we” and “us”.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just some food for thought about the real meaning of education and the next time you consider what qualities are evident in a great teacher.