Traits That Define a Great Teacher
Written by Sarah Baird Glover
Most of us can remember our favorite teachers. They stand out in our memories because they created meaningful learning experiences and didn’t give up on us when we struggled to master a skill or concept. As a child, I didn’t think much about what made my teachers great, I mostly just knew how they made me feel—valued, important and capable. Now, as an adult who has devoted her career to teaching children and preparing new educators to enter the classroom, I have a greater sense of why great teachers are great.
Great teachers cultivate curiosity, embrace failure, focus on all students, believe in their value, and seek work-life balance in order to have meaningful and memorable impacts on the lives of their students.
Great teachers love learning
Great teachers know that a love for learning is contagious. They can instill this love in their students by modeling it in their practice. Whether it’s using a new technology, trying out a new strategy learned in professional development or pursuing an advanced degree or credential, teachers show their students that learning is a lifelong endeavor.
Great teachers make mistakes
There’s a reason the work of a teacher is called “practice.” Teaching is a constant work in progress, and great teachers make mistakes—lots of them. However, great teachers know that it’s reflecting on these mistakes that leads to continuous improvement. In embracing a growth mindset, great teachers know they can inspire their students to persevere through failure and struggle to achieve success.
Great teachers are student-centered
Great teachers know that what matters most is not the teaching, it’s the learning. Great teachers always look to their students to inform instructional decision making. They consistently analyze their students’ understanding in order to provide instruction that is relevant, responsive and differentiated.
Great teachers care about equity
Great teachers believe all students can learn and thrive. Each student comes from a family where culture, ethnicity, race, language, family dynamics, socio-economics and other factors impact their lived experience. Great teachers devote time to knowing students as individuals and thinking about how they can reach these students using intentional strategies, supports and techniques.
Great teachers know that they matter
Great teachers know that their work makes a difference in the lives of students. They know that showing up every day even when they feel overworked and underpaid matters to the students who know they’ll be there. Great teachers know that teaching is hard and the challenges are many, but the impact they make on the students whose lives are forever altered means that their work is critical.
Great teachers seek balance
Teaching is not a 40 hour a week job—there are lessons to plan, papers to grade and classrooms to organize. Great teachers know that they must take care of themselves in order to avoid burn out. Great teachers know that sometimes they must walk away from lengthy to-do lists in order to take care of themselves.
Sarah Baird Glover is the Associate Executive Director of Education at the Public Education & Business Coalition, based in Denver, Colorado. Sarah began her career in education as a elementary classroom teacher and instructional coach in Denver Public Schools. Sarah holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Denison University, an MA in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado Denver and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She currently leads PEBC’s teacher preparation work through the Boettcher Teacher Residency.