5 Characteristics of a Great Teacher

By Micah Russell — Great teachers.  They’re hard to come by.

Out of four to six classes you take a semester, you may receive one good teacher, one professor who you enjoy.  However, the great teacher is one who really speaks to your learning style, your values, your soul.  They are often uncommon, but you will recognize them and remember them from that first day.

I can hardly remember the names of my other teachers…heck, I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can list off the names of ever great teacher I’ve had since gradeschool: Mrs. Nishi, Ms. Rydlewicz, Dr. Laats, Mr. Kearney, Mrs. Bonesho, Mr. Prosser, Dr. McBride, Fr. Coutinho, Dr. Tate, and the list goes on.  They’re immortalized in my mind because they taught me more than most.  They inherited the important characteristics of a great teacher.

Well then, what are those traits?  When thinking about what each of these individuals had in common, I came up with the following five characteristics:

  • Expertise – Have you ever listened to an expert talk?  It is fascinating to hear what they say.  When a teacher is an expert in their subject, it shows through their passion and desire to share it with you.
  • Humility/Empathy – It doesn’t matter if you are Queen of England.  If you cannot speak to your students on a common level, you are doing them a disservice.  There is a great power dynamic between teacher and student, and if the expert cannot effectively check themselves, the student will check out.
  • Humor – The teacher doesn’t have to be a stand-up comedian, but when they feel comfortable enough to crack a joke in class, the student feels more involved and interested.  Personality is necessary.  Otherwise we’d all be learning from robots.
  • Activities – Talk about engaging an audience.  I am baffled by professors who lecture for half of the semester and then are surprised when no one wants to participate in an exciting group activity.  The best teachers engage their students on the first day and continue that precedent.
  • Commitment – This is a broader term, but it is meant to define the commitment of the teacher to their students.  A teacher may post his or her office hours on the syllabus, but great professors are those that put in the extra effort for their students.  In this case, actions speak louder than words.

Each of my great teachers had these qualities.  They may express them differently and to different degrees, but they all work, and that is most important.

So take great teachers, even if they are difficult graders.  And if you get the chance, tell them how much you appreciate them.  The school may reward them by not firing them, but the students make all the difference, particularly in their eyes.  I credit where I am today to my greatest teachers.

And if any of you are reading this, thank you.

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