What Makes a Good Teacher?

By the number and content of the education bills that have been flying back and forth in the 2015 Mississippi Legislative session, it is easy to see that many of our legislators have little respect for teachers in the state. Much of their lack of respect for educators can be attributed to political agendas and a superhero complex. Politically they tend to ride on the coattails of whatever wind happens to be blowing at the time, and lately the fashionable political gale is education bashing. The other fashionable political trend is the superhero complex that so many of our elected officials have adopted. Too many of them think they have a super-sized “S” stamped on their chest, and all they need do to right any perceived problems is to huff and puff and legislate the problems away, especially in education. They believe that they alone are the saviors who can save the state from ill prepared, incompetent, diabolical teachers. However, when it comes to education, the vast majority of legislators likely do not have a clue about education other than what they hear in Walmart or in their church parking lot. Their negative perceptions of education are generally fueled more by personal experiences, experiences of family members, and public opinion than test scores or poor rankings. Unfortunately, sometimes these experiences and opinions are not the hogwash educators would like to attribute to them; sometimes they do have merit no matter how isolated the experience might be. It is unfortunate, but there are some weak teachers out there who give teachers including the good ones a bad name. Fortunately, there are many more good teachers than the handful of bad apples who get all the press and attention.

Like any other profession, education has people who need to be weeded out; they do not have the aptitude to teach, they do not have the knowledge to teach, they do not have commitment to teach, nor do they have the work ethic to teach. It is easy to be a teacher, but it is not easy to be a GOOD teacher. To be a good teacher, it takes a lot of hard time consuming work! For whatever reason, there is a mindset in our society today that teaching is an easy job anyone can do. It is unbelievable, but so many people think of teaching as little more than standing in front of a bunch of kids and talking or watching them color? If that was all there was to it, anyone could do it, but it takes more – a lot more. To be a good teacher a person must be motivated, committed, and driven to do what is best for children. To be a good teacher, an individual must also have the courage to stand alone against a society that seemingly takes pleasure in branding them as incompetent and self-serving. So, what could possibly motivate an individual with an advanced degree or degrees to subject himself/herself on a daily basis to such ridicule and disrespect? Why do smart people continue to work in a profession where they are not appreciated? The answer is they are professionals, they love children, they are working for the kids not the adults, and they are GOOD at what they do!

Until someone proves me wrong, I believe good teachers are the norm in education rather than the exception. Of course, there are some teachers who are better than others, but that is true in any profession. But, what makes one teacher better than another teacher? Maybe, it is that some teachers are not satisfied with just being good; they want to be the best. Maybe, the teachers who really set the standard for the profession are not satisfied that their students pass; they expect them to excel! Whatever the reason, the common denominator for all GOOD teachers is they CARE for their students, their colleagues, and their profession. They have high expectations of their students, of their colleagues, of their profession, and most of all they have high expectations of themselves. They refuse to settle for anything less. If every teacher had these traits, education naysayers would have little fuel to feed their negativism against teachers and the profession. Regrettably, that is not the case, so good teachers continue to be pulled down by a handful of misfits. That is a shame since Mississippi has so many good teachers trying to do what is right for kids.

What does a good teacher look like? Without fail I always found GOOD teachers have common characteristics that make them special – that make them not just teachers but good even great teachers. I have observed that good teachers are personally motivated to be the best teacher they can possibly be. They understand that it is their responsibility to teach and ensure children learn in their classrooms; they are driven personally and professionally by the success of their students.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

  1. Good teachers have high expectations for their students;
  2. Good teachers rarely miss a day from school;
  3. Good teachers understand education is all about LEARNING; teaching is simply a means to kick start the process;
  4. Good teachers truly believe all children can learn; they are committed to making learning happen in their classrooms;
  5. Good teachers do not teach sitting behind their desk. They understand that learning is an ACTIVE activity not a passive activity. Good teachers are up moving around and working with kids; they are engaged in learning with the kids;
  6. Good teachers never give up on their students;
  7. Good teachers are committed to being learners themselves. Good teachers are READERS – both professionally and personally;
  8. Good teachers understand that all children do not learn in the same way or in the same time;
  9. Good teachers do not work in isolation. Professional collaboration is essential to the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom;
  10. Good teachers understand that instruction is not “gut” driven, but rather “data” and “research” driven;
  11. Good teachers don’t check or send email or grade papers on student time. Student time is anytime there are students in the classroom;
  12. Good teachers respect children for who they are – not for who they want them to be;
  13. Good teachers understand that misbehavior in the classroom is a behavior/choice issue and not a personal issue directed at them;
  14. Good teachers do not waste students’ time with busy work;
  15. Good teachers provide feedback on student work including classwork, homework, and tests;
  16. Good teachers always come to class prepared;
  17. Good teachers make lessons relevant to their students;
  18. Good teachers do not argue with students in their classroom;
  19. Good teachers are not afraid to try new teaching methods or to take risks;
  20. Good teachers teach day to day routines beginning day one;
  21. Good teachers understand the culture behind the status quo, but they are never satisfied with it;
  22. Good teachers do not expend energy on the negative; good teachers spend very little time with negative people;
  23. Good teachers understand when they sign their contracts . . .
    1. they are signing on for inadequate pay for the job they are expected to do;
    2. they are signing on for overcrowded classrooms;
    3. they are signing on for hours of thankless time away from their families;
    4. they are signing on to be evaluated by an evaluation process with little relevance to what actually happens in the classroom;
    5. they are signing on to be evaluated by principals and/or assistant principals who often do not have a clue as to what they should be looking for in the classroom and who look at evaluations as something to be checked off their “to do” list rather than a tool to actually help the teacher;
    6. they are signing on to be led by a superintendent whose politics and political competency are often more important than what he/she knows about instruction and learning;
    7. they are signing on to ensure children learn to the best of their ability, and to that end “1 – 6” above do not really matter.

Good teachers believe the journey as a teacher is worth taking. They believe their journey can make a difference in the lives of the children they teach, and they pray it makes a difference in them as well. Good teachers understand that for learning to take place in the classroom, the teacher must be mentally and physically involved. Finally, good teachers understand the way to shut the naysayers up is to prove them wrong daily.   To do that, they understand they must be good teachers everyday not just some days. They understand . . .

  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love kids;
  • You cant be a good teacher sitting on your butt;
  • You can’t be a good teacher worrying about your paycheck;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you don’t love your profession;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you aren’t prepared;
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to ensure your students learn; and
  • You can’t be a good teacher if you think teaching is about you.

To be a good teacher, teachers must believe in their kids and themselves. After all, that is all that really matters in the classroom.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 17, 2015

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2 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Teacher?

  1. Anonymous

    A strong follow-up to this post would be a thorough read of Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. It’s not a job, it’s a passion.

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  2. Anonymous

    Thank you again, Jack. Well said. Of course, you’re preaching to the choir. Those who need to change are the ones who won’t read this.

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