Monday, April 1, 2013

Characteristics of Effective Teachers

We often hear about the characteristics of effective learning. Classrooms need to be student-centered, based on problem solving, etc. On a recent application I was filling out, I was asked to give the top 5 characteristics of a science teacher. It was an interesting question to ponder. I put fingers to keys and in about an hour, I came up with the following. After pouring out my ideas, I thought it would be interesting to pose the question to the rest of you. I see so many attributes in the excellent teachers that surround me, it was hard to narrow down my list to just 5.

Teachers wear many hats. They can be instructors, coaches, psychologists, friends, secretaries, administrators, referees, and parents, all before lunch. To perform these duties they need a set of core characteristics. The following is a list of some of what I believe are the most important attributes a teacher must possess.

Knowledgable: A science teacher must be confident in the material they are presenting to their students. Science, in its very nature, is content driven. The laws that govern the universe are the basis for every discipline in science. A science teacher needs to understand at a deep level, the intricacies of how these laws are weaved together, for it is our goal to pass these patterns on to our students. Aside content is the appreciation and knowledge of teaching pedagogy. I firmly believe that teaching is an art form, based on a teachers' fundamental methods of instructing. Although the students are not always privy to it, good teachers have a method to their madness. I use learning cycles, some use modelling, whiteboarding, etc. Regardless, good teaching centers on pedagogy.

Understanding: Relationships are fundamental to teaching. Teachers need to be more than friends to their students. They need to celebrate successes, be a shoulder to cry on, a confidant, a cheerleader, all while pushing students to achieve more than they knew they we capable of. Teachers need to understand that every student is different, have different histories, personalities, and future plans. Not every student will respond to a teacher's personality or style, but the teacher must be understanding and empathetic of each and every situation.

Diligent: Teaching is not for the weak willed. It is a demanding profession that requires hard work and patience. There are many parts of the job that can be mastered with a strong personality, but not all. Grading papers, planning curriculum, collaborating with colleagues, writing tests, aligning to ever changing standards, attending professional development meetings, and inservice days require teachers to be hardworking and diligent. These are not the most fun aspects of the profession, but they are at the core of the job.

Respected: I believe that this is the single most important characteristic of any teacher. If a teacher is respected by his/her students, they tend to rise to the expectations set in the curriculum. Discipline issues tend to be less if that respect is there, and any that arise can be dealt with without bringing in outside help. Respect is earned, not given or implied. Teachers need to devote effort to gaining and keeping their students' respect throughout the year. This can be done using numerous avenues. Developing a relationship of mutual with the student is key here. Students will respect the work the teacher is trying to do if in turn the teacher has a respect for the reasons the student is acting the way they do.

Adaptable: Whether it is a snow day that moves the test back, a senior meeting that had to be rescheduled during 4th period, or major alterations to the state's content standards, teachers have to be adaptable. Teachers make hundreds of decisions every day that can make or break a lesson they are teaching. They have to be able to think on their feet and alter their plans sometimes on a moments notice. They need to understand the big picture in curriculum and trust in their core pedagogy enough to alter lessons in stride. The evolution of the scientific world is accelerating as well. Teachers need to re-learn the new aspects of their discipline, whether it is the finding of the Higgs Boson, or the the mapping of the genome. They need to learn, and then adapt it to their classroom.

By no means are these the only attributes that make teachers great. This list is simply an overview of some of the characteristics I have seen in the great teachers around me.

Please let me know what else fits in here. What are your 5 characteristics of an effective teacher?