The Art of Teaching—The Making of a Great Teacher

by Lizabeth A. Fogel

Last time I asked you to reflect on your educational history and chat with friends and colleagues about what are some good and bad characteristics of teachers. Researchers have asked parents, students, administration and teachers what characteristics make the best and worst teachers. Over the last several years while teaching both graduate students and elementary school children I have asked them what they think make the best teachers.

Santrock (2002, p. 13) reported the finding of this study conducted by NAASP:

Characteristics of Best Teacher
1) Having a sense of humor
2) Make the class interesting
3) Have knowledge of the subject
4) Explain things clearly
5) Spend time helping students
6) Are fair to the students
7) They want to treated as if they were older
8) Relate well to students
9) Are considerate of student’s feelings
10) Don’t show favoritism

Characteristics of Worst Teachers
1) Dull/boring class
2) Don’t explain things clearly
3) Show favoritism
4) Have a poor attitude
5) Expect too much from students
6) Don’t relate to students
7) Give too much homework
8) Are too strict
9) Don’t give individual help/attention
10) Lack of control

Some of my findings for what makes the best teachers:
1) Subject matter competence
2) Variety of instructional strategies
3) Goal setting for students and teacher
4) Strong classroom management
5) Motivational Skills
6) Communication Skills
7) Technology Skills
8) Wearing different “hats”
9) Empathy
10) Enthusiasm
11) Nurturing
12) Patient
13) Positive attitude
14) Organized

What I would like to do over the next several articles is explore in depth how you can gain or improve on these “best characteristics”. I want to start with the idea of communication which encompasses working with parent, students, other teachers, and lesson planning.

Communication skills include: Speaking, listening, writing and observation (nonverbal). These skills are not only critical when working with the students, but also the parents, administration and faculty. Effective teachers use good communication skills when talking “with” rather than “to” students, parents and others. The best type of communication is assertive rather than aggressive, manipulative or passive. Being assertive means being able to deal with conflicts, understand others emotions and how to react to them, asking for what you want, saying no to things you don’t want and acting in your own best interest with out under-minding others. This may sound easy, but a great teacher understands themselves and their reactions to others. Start journaling your thought and feeling about school issues and devising a plan for yourself on how you might react and handle certain situations.

Communicating With Kids

Creating a positive environment for the students is all about communicating your vision effectively. In general the authoritative style of teaching/management is considered the most effective teaching style; it was derived from Diana Baumrind’s parenting styles. Authoritative teachers engage student in conversations, showing that they care about what the students’ thing and say. They encourage their students to be independent thinkers and doers while providing modeling, monitoring, limits and structure. These elements are crucial for any teacher to be successful.

Modeling is the tendency to imitate the behaviors one observes in others. Good teachers are always modeling appropriate behaviors and how to do specific academic tasks. If you don’t model, how will your students know what to do? Or if you model inappropriate behaviors, they are likely to follow. This is especially true with younger students. You can talk until you are blue in the face, but until you show them what you expect and want they may not get it. For example, if you want their respect you must respect them, if you want them to listen you must listen to them, if you want them to do a project a specific way show them. Give then an outline for a writing project, make a sample of an art project or demonstrate on the board what you mean by a character web. After you have modeled what you want them to do, let them begin working in their teams, pair, or individually.

Next you must monitor your students. This means you can’t sit down, talk on the phone, correct papers, etc… while the students are in the room. You must have contact with your students. Walk around and ask them to explain what they are doing. This way you are checking on their understanding of the task. Sit with them. Develop gestures or signs for going to the bathroom, getting materials… so you don’t also have to talk. However, your voice can be a useful tool. Changing the tone, pitch or loudness (not yelling) can help you display many emotions. Make eye contact with students so they know you’re watching. If a student is having trouble staying focused sometime just being in close proximity can help them complete the assignment. Pull small groups of students who need extra help or who are more advance and work with them on the project while others are working quietly. And if you assign homework (which should be for review purposes only) make sure to correct it or collect it, this is another way to monitor the students’ progress and understanding of the material.

The teacher is in charge, you have the ability and a duty to set limits and develop the structure of the classroom. Limits or rules can either be set by the teacher or by the students and the teacher together. I like to involve the students (no matter what age) in developing the rules/standards that they must abide by. Involving them in the process helps with by-in, they are their rules/standards. However, you must have a list of your own prepared and during an open discussion lead the students in the development of “their” rules/standards that incorporate your ideas. You will be surprised that most of what they come up with was on your list. You don’t want more than five rules/standards otherwise it gets confusing. If you don’t set the rules/standards how will they know what is expected of them?

Once the rule/standards are set you must develop the rewards and consequences. Personally, I believe that appropriate behaviors is not something that is necessarily rewarded, it is expect and behaviors that are exceptional are in someway acknowledged and rewarded. However, behaviors that break the rules/standards must be dealt with and the students must be aware of the consequences of their actions. With whatever rules/standards you set up you must remember to be consistent, timely, follow through with rewards or punishments, and always avoid arguments.

This week if you have not set class rules/standards do it, it is never too late. During one of your lessons try modeling what you want and monitoring their behaviors and achievements. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by that they will produce. Next time we will look specifically on how to communicate with parents.