What Makes a Good Teacher?

On the first day of school, I asked my 6th grade Language Arts students, “What do you think makes a good teacher?” in addition to several getting to know you sorts of questions. Students wrote their answers on index cards. In response to the good teacher question, some students said things one might immediately suspect like one who gives cupcakes instead of homework or a teacher who gives out lots of prizes.

Photo by chotda
Photo by chotda

But these students were in the minority. Students thought a good teacher was fun, but he or she should also be patientorganized, challenging, encouraging, interesting, easy to understand, kind, smart, logical, peaceful, friendly, fair, caring, creative, and child-like but firm.

A good teacher is both a teacher and a friend, both kind and stern, not a push-over, willing to answer questions, and strict when needed.

Good teachers smile, understand, make kids work, support their students, pay attention to every student, know their subject well, and get work done.

Good teachers have persistence, a good personality, high expectations, and vast knowledge.

I’ll admit it felt a bit like I was reading Jane and Michael Banks’ qualifications list for a nanny in Mary Poppins. How am I ever to match these rightfully high expectations, especially without a magic carpet bag or a trusty, tuneful chimney sweep? But these are certainly the things I hope for myself and, on my best days, get a glimpse of.

What was most heartening to me was that students’ values and my own were aligned. Of all the descriptions, child-like but firm was the one that grabbed me the most. It’s easy to think students want the cheap thrills- candy, prizes, and no homework. Those things have their places (although, I’ll admit, not much space in my classroom) but the things that students and I want and care about aren’t that easy. I’m up for the challenge.


5 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Teacher?

  1. Wonderful to read! And why NOT ask students what makes a good teacher. (Also ask them what makes a good learner! A great way for the class to set a standard for themselves, too!)

    Regarding the Mary Poppins-esque characteristics — you’ve got a list to work towards! As for the magic carpet bag, I’d suggest that the Internet is today’s equivalent …


  2. “But these are certainly the things I hope for myself and, on my best days, get a glimpse of.” <—– I love that! I certainly am NOT all the things that my students listed….at least not all the time. But it is certainly something to aspire to!

    Great post! Thanks for inviting me to read!

    1. I think it’s funny that you mentioned Mary Poppins, because what students often need is Nanny McPhee, and like the children in the movie, students often don’t know it. They have to believe that we have high expectations, and that the students know they can meet them. Once that happens, the rest should follow.

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