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What Makes a Good Teacher

By: Cheryl Bell Patten (2003)

What makes a good teacher? Like all good recipes, the ingredients for a teacher's success in the classroom are simple, easy to follow, and allow for personal interpretation to enhance the result. Primarily, a teacher's goal is to motivate her students to reach beyond their grasp. Many children are keenly aware of their weaknesses and special education students are particularly sensitive to being "different". A good teacher helps the child realize her strengths and encourages and challenges the student to learn through those strengths. It is in the day to day process of reaching this goal that the ingredients for making a good teacher come into play.

The best teachers are the ones who teach to the whole child. Their vision of education is not limited to the tangibles of academic achievement but encompasses daily doses of compassion, flexibility, communication, humor, imagination, and the willingness to be open minded. Most importantly, a good teacher is someone who uses both his head and her heart in equal measure throughout the school day. Compassion is in understanding that a student may be frustrated, angry or just unable to focus on the academics at hand. A little extra attention, a hug, a query as to how he is feeling today or the simple expression that the teacher values that student and was glad he was there today is all it takes to make a potentially negative situation into a positive, personal learning experience for the child. Bad days happen to everyone. Deal with the misbehavior, and move on, but be fair and consistent in your discipline.

Good teachers don't speak negatively about their students to anyone. Flexibility allows the learning environment to be fluid and creative. Be upbeat and positive and ready to adapt to students moods and needs. Maybe the lesson plan can be more effectively learned if the students stand and move about, play a game with the information or talk about something else that is important to them at that moment. Communicate with the student and his parents on a regular basis. The more open and direct the dialogue is among all the parties, the more involved parents and children become in the educational process.

A good teacher is not threatened by parent advocacy. Remember no one knows the child as well as her parents and they can become wonderful allies in developing a strong 24/7 educational plan for the child. Listen as well as talk. Humor. Learn to laugh at yourself, smile and be free to admit mistakes. This lesson is perhaps the most difficult for LD students to learn. LD is not funny, but learning to reduce their level of frustration, and be more accepting of mistakes, allows the students to relax and be more receptive to trying new things. Imagination is all about thinking outside the box. Good teachers are always willing to try new approaches for delivering the information. The unconventional might just be the ticket for helping the LD student pay attention or process the information. The end certainly justifies the means in this case. Along with this is the need to be open minded and receptive to new methodology, research, and the acknowledgement that we can all learn new things everyday. Question the curriculum if it does not benefit your students. Everything is open to change.

But perhaps a child can best explain what make a good teacher:

  • She smiles at me.
  • She really likes me a lot.
  • She misses me when I don't come in.
  • I learn a lot in my class.
  • It's OK, my teacher will show me how.

(Margaret - on behalf of her 8 year old son, Wilmington, DE)

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