What Makes A Great Teacher – A Teacher Appreciation Week Post

It is teacher appreciation week!  I am fortunate enough to be the son of two retired educators, to be married to a phenomenal teacher (who is the daughter of two educators herself), and to serve a group of amazing teachers daily.  Over my ten years as an administrator, I have had the opportunity to observe- and learn from- some teachers who would be among the best and the brightest in any school. As I have thought about attributes the best in their field have in common, I have come up with six characteristics that I believe are embodied by all great teachers.

  • Great teachers care about kids first and foremost.   Great teachers do not teach math… or grammar… or science… or arts… — they teach students. Rick Dufour stated, “You can’t prove anything was taught, until you have proof of learning.” Teaching does not happen without learning being the end result or product; therefore, if students are not learning, we are not teaching.  This can be a hard pill to swallow for average teachers.  They put their content first, they love it, they preach it/teach it, and then place all the onus in learning on their students.  Great teachers have come to realize if we are not doing work that brings students in, and makes them want to learn, (which is hard work, especially if students are not very interested in what is being taught) are we really thinking about the kids and putting them first?
  • Great teachers are risk takers.  Great teachers are constantly looking for ways to make school new and/or better for students. Great teachers are innovative and therefore provide space for students to innovate as well. Innovation is a norm in the classrooms of great teachers. Average teachers live in their comfort zone- they play it safe to ensure they always get it right.  They do not take risks out of fear of “looking bad” or “not always having an answer” in front of their students.  Great teachers do not change for the sake of changing, but they take risks to improve their classroom.  Great teachers realize every individual in the classroom is a learner and learning requires making mistakes — teachers included.
  • Great teachers have a “no blame attitude.” We live in a society of blamers — people who are not willing to take responsibility for how their own actions impact outcomes. From smokers who blame and sue cigarette companies for causing them cancer, to fast food junkies who blame restaurants for being unhealthy — we live in a culture of blame.  Great teachers never blame their circumstances.  While average teachers point their fingers at the students or parents- trying to deflect blame for academic or behavioral deficiencies in their classrooms- great teachers make no excuses.  Great teachers believe all students can be successful with the right support.  Average teachers ask themselves “Can my students do this?” Great teachers ask questions like, “HOW can my students do this?” or “WHAT can I do to get my students to that point?”  As my friend and colleague Dr. Danny Mendez (@dmendez2378) would put it, great ones have a “whatever-it-takes” attitude.  They have high standards for every student, and find ways for all students, regardless of their perceived ability, to achieve success.  Great teachers own the learning in their classroom – no blame, no shame, and definitely no excuses!
  • Great teachers are team players. Great teachers are amazing collaborators.  They understand that we are all better together and we need each other to be our best.  Where average teachers may keep their great ideas to themselves out of a need to feel superior, great ones share freely.  The best learning does not happen in isolation and great teachers understand this concept in relationship to themselves and their students.  Great teachers understand that it does not matter how good you are in your classroom if you don’t share it with others.  They want learning to be better for all students, they understand the point of a school is to make it better for all students, not to selfishly hold ideas so you can be better than your colleagues.  Great teachers do not just want to have a great classroom; they want to have a great school.  Average teachers are satisfied with only helping the students sitting in front of them each year.  Great ones raise their game, by bring others up around them.
  • Great teachers are challengers, but not resistors.  Great teachers challenge the status quo because they want things better.  They have no interest in just being good. They want what is best for their students. Great teachers do not resist initiatives or change, but they do ask a lot of questions and push to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before moving forward.  They do this out of the best interest of their students and the school.  Average teachers are often prone to resistance of new ideas or ways of thinking.  They resist because, in doing so- it makes their job easier. Great teachers have no problem working harder and smarter in the best interest of the students in their care.
  • Great teachers have a purpose.  Maybe most importantly, great teachers know who they are and why they teach.  They live by a credence that all students can and will be successful in their classrooms.  Great teachers get up everyday to go to a job they love.  Although the work is hard, their passion and purpose carry them through the day-to-day and year-to-year challenges.  Average teachers view their position as just a job. They float around, like a ship without a rudder, trying to find joy in what they do, often looking in all the wrong places.  They question why they are teaching and therefore lack the gusto often seen in great teachers.  Great teachers know who they are, are confident in their decisions, and always do what is best for the students they serve.

Teachers, in general, may often be undervalued in society, but the great ones- they are never underappreciated or unloved by their students.  Great teachers will probably never fully understand the impact they have on students lives, or realize the difference they make on a daily basis, but they push forward anyway.  Great teachers value learning for themselves and their students, and that is what keeps them coming back and excited year after year!

Thank you to all the great teachers out there!  You make a difference everyday!

Do you recognize these traits in some of your colleagues? Tell them! Celebrate each other and what makes us great!

This post is dedicated to all the great teachers out there who work tirelessly for their students.  Your hard work is noticed and appreciated!!

Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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