Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Makes a Good Teacher?

We need teachers. More importantly, we need good teachers. Because for most children today, school is a reality. As long as school is required for most children, for 180 days a year, for thirteen years, it would be ideal if they could have amazing teachers to spend all that time with.

Thinking about all of the teachers I have ever had, I realized that most of my favorites were math teachers. This is not a big surprise, since math was my favorite subject. I didn't mind going to math class or doing math homework, because I liked it. I understood it. It didn't take much effort for math teachers to connect with me because I was already connected with the material. But what other things did all of my favorite teachers have in common?

  1. They were nice people.
  2. They seemed to like us (children).
  3. They didn't pile on homework.
  4. They cared more about our learning than our grades.
  5. They didn't grade us harshly.
  6. Their classes felt more like conversations than lectures.
  7. They understood when we made mistakes.
  8. They admitted to sometimes making mistakes too.
  9. They accepted input from us about content and methods.
  10. They didn't take themselves too seriously.

I know it is hard to be a teacher. I got a small taste of it in graduate school, where I had to conduct "discussion" classes for a freshman statistics course (you can imagine the lively discussions that took place, especially in the 8 am sections). I tasted enough to know that I couldn't be a teacher. It is hard to balance kids' needs with administrators' requirements. It is hard to make material engaging and fun to those who are not already interested. It is hard to grade kids, to disappoint the ones who are obviously working hard and just don't get it. It is a lot of work to come up with lessons and assignments and tests.

It is especially hard to do all this when you know you are being judged by your students' scores on standardized tests. When you know what kind of teacher you want to be, but it seems impossible to be that teacher within the current system.

But all teachers have one thing in common: they used to be kids. And all kids know what makes a good teacher. It would be wonderful if teachers could just remember all the things they hated about school when they were students, and minimize these things in their own classes.

What do you remember about your favorite teachers?

This was inspired by a great post at Against the Wind, called 10 Things I Wish I Had Never Learned About Teaching.


  1. My favorite teacher was my 4th/5th grade teacher, Mr. Modec (yes he was both it was a split grade that you remained in for 2 years). He had a whole system set up for math and everyone worked at their own pace. You would go through the text book, do the lessons, if you had trouble you would go up and work with him 1 on 1. When you felt confident you knew it then you would ask for the test. If you passed you got to move on to the next chapter. He had 4th grade text books all the way up through 8th grade algebra. No one was ever lost and no one was ever held back. Myself and 4 other of his students skipped 6th grade math because of his "teaching".

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  3. Melissa, I had a math teacher sort of like that, and I loved it too. Sounds like you were really lucky to have him for two years! Really cool. There were so many times in math classes when I wanted to move on but had to wait for others to catch up. It was frustrating. Although, I am sure it is frustrating to be one of the ones everyone is waiting for as well.

  4. Having kind of coasted through grade school, high school, and college, I am finding it difficult to recall the truly great teachers I had. Part of that problem might have also been my lack of interest in any of the subjects I was learning. Even in college, I was undecided on my major until I was forced to choose.

    Not until after college, after several years off from any sort of formal education, I recently enrolled in and completed a 6 week acting conservatory in New York. The combination of my interest in the subject with the immense passion that my 3 teachers had was astounding. I never felt so interested in learning in my entire life. Oh, there were no grades, either...just learning about a topic I was curious to explore from people who love what they teach. Not sure the point I am making, but just thought I'd share. Oh, and I am going to continue my studies there, too :)