It is interview season, and in some of my teacher Facebook groups, interviewees have requested ideas on ways to address X issue, how to respond to Y question, and how we’d solve Z problem. It’s made me pause to reflect on what makes a teacher great, and I think after 25 years in the classroom in multiple settings (classroom, technology, and reading specialist) and with the experiences I’ve had working with some of the greatest teachers, I can identify traits that great teachers must have. This is not to say that *I* am great (even after this many years, I still feel I have lots of areas to improve), but rather, what I have seen and admire in my colleagues.
Great teachers are resourceful and collaborative.
When you first begin teaching, you have so much to absorb. Learning what you have to teach is about all you can manage, so being able to work with a resourceful teammate is critical. It takes years to get your resources to the degree of quality needed to match the individual needs of the many students you teach. You will have out of the ballpark homerun lessons that you repeat, and some you will trash. Being open to help and/or willing to help others is a really great teacher quality. One of my colleagues said it best, “We need to work smarter, not harder.” That comes through collaboration, exchanging the great stuff, and knowing where to find great materials too.
Effective teachers listen more than they talk.
This one is so, so hard for me since I’m a talker, but it is important to shift the workload to the students. Using thoughtful questions to get them to talk through problem solving and show their thinking really raises the rigor and helps teachers clarify misunderstandings. If you tend to talk too much, make sure you are leaving a long enough wait time. It is something I try to be aware of and restrain myself, and I think that is a good thing. Being aware of your own weaknesses leads to better teaching. For new teachers, writing out questions ahead may be helpful. Use sticky notes to mark questioning points and place them in the text you’re using.
Observant teachers watch for reading behaviors.
Whether you’re teaching reading or another subject where reading is used, listen to your students and watch for the miscues they make. Use what you notice to address these deficits during your reading block. One tip for keeping notes on these observations is to carry around large address labels for anecdotal records that you can peel/stick into a notebook later. I use these for running records and one-on-one discussions too. You might also find that keeping notes on Evernote or a Google Form you’ve set up helpful if you want an e-copy.
Great teachers know their students well and keep a sense of humor.
Flexibility is one quality that all teachers need. The best laid plans always get disrupted, so you just have to “modify and adjust”. I think that was one lesson I learned early, and to this day, it is still very, very important. Sometimes, you can plan a perfect lesson, but then the principal calls a fire drill (never fails that it’s right at the high point of the lesson, right?). Sometimes, students get sick. Other times, the hunger a child feels at the moment just can not be ignored, and sometimes, that child with disabilities who learns differently from others, needs his/her demands met in order to maintain control. Understand your students and know them as individuals.
Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Children are not made with cookie cutters. They are unique individuals with vastly different needs, and when those basic needs aren’t met, children will struggle to learn. Look through this list and think how it applies to your students. This year, I had 50% in poverty, and that mid-morning snack was really important for them. They don’t have books in their home, so my lending library was used A LOT, but sometimes, the books went home and came back again unread because at home, those basic needs were all that were addressed.
Passionate teachers are positive communicators.
One of my colleagues, comes to mind when I think of positive communicators. She was my daughter’s teacher as well as my coworker. What I loved about her was her ability to remain positive no matter what. She was so, so kind to me as a parent and positive about my child. As a colleague, just such a genuine nurturer of children. To this day, she asks about my daughter (who had struggles at that time), and my daughter knows that she was loved by her.
Reach out to those parents who may be reluctant, and don’t take it personally if they are not able to come in to meet with you. Parents want the best for their children, but not all parents work on the same time schedule or with the same skills. They, like us, do the best they can.
Innovative teachers keep up with new trends in education.
One great way to keep up is to read blogs, talk shop with colleagues, and research. Technology is ever changing. This morning’s discussion for me was about Google Classroom. You might also find professional book discussion groups to join or follow too. Over at Adventures in Literacy Land, we we’ve hosted a few book studies. You can find discussions with Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Gap by Richard Allington (Have you heard him speak? Amazing!) and Word Callers by Kelly Cartwright. If these are of interest, you can locate them on Amazon. You can also find a few others too including: From Striving to Thriving ,Teaching Reading in Small Groups. and Book Whisperer.
Analytical teachers use assessments to guide their instruction.
Sure, we all need grades, but the real value in assessment is using that information for future planning. They didn’t get it the first time, so now what? You can’t redo the whole unit because then you’ll be off the pacing guide. How do we work in remediation? It is all a balancing act, but with careful planning, it can be done, especially with using your support people well.
Creative teachers use a variety of teaching methods to reach all learning styles.
Learning styles are important to consider. I tend to have a bright room with lots of “stuff” on the walls. In a meeting not long ago, we discussed what is best for children with adhd. Guess what? It is not a room with lots of “stuff” on the walls. Using a common color scheme and keeping decorations purposeful, simple, and free of distracting material may eliminate some distractibility. Including movement breaks and tactile activities will also help. Keep your students’ needs in mind as well as traffic flow when you design your classroom space and/or choose materials.
Efficient teachers use time effectively.
This has always been a source of stress for me as time can not be regained once it is gone, so it is important to stick to your schedule. Transition times are killers if they are not done effectively. Five minutes quickly becomes fifteen if you allow bathroom breaks, drink breaks, time to run back to get this book or that book, etc. Guard that instructional time like gold. Some find it helpful to use timers both for monitoring lessons, but also for increasing stamina with students. Time on task is important for the students, so keeping kids going with engaging lessons helps.
Great teachers are not superheroes, we are human.
Remember, you are human. Be real and be yourself. Kids see right through you if you try to be something you are not. Working hard is evident and leads to great teaching, but you have to have balance too. Use your days off to do what you enjoy and collaborate so that you aren’t duplicating work. Co-planning with teammates pays off. In the summer, don’t feel guilty about kicking back by the pool. It will keep you positive on those long days ahead. Most of all, find your passion and teaching niche. It keeps you motivated and excited about spending time with your little people.
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What would you add to this list? Do you have advice for new teachers? How about veteran teachers? What advice do we have for our veterans?