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What Makes a Great Teacher?
by Lisa Rosenthal, GreatSchools

In his book, Stories of the Courage to Teach, Smith College education professor Sam Intrator quotes his father, a teacher of 30-plus years, as saying, “We need teachers who care about kids, who care about what they teach and who can connect with their students. On top of that, they need to have faith in the importance of their work.”

Here are some characteristics of great teachers:

Great teachers set high expectations for all students.
They expect that all students can and will achieve in their classroom, and they don’t give up on underachievers.

Great teachers have clear, written-out objectives.
Effective teachers have lesson plans that give students a clear idea of what they will be learning, what the assignments are and what the grading policy is. Assignments have learning goals and give students ample opportunity to practice new skills. The teacher is consistent in grading and returns work in a timely manner.

Great teachers are prepared and organized.
They are in their classrooms early and ready to teach. They present lessons in a clear and structured way. Their classrooms are organized in such a way as to minimize distractions.

Great teachers engage students and get them to look at issues in a variety of ways.
Effective teachers use facts as a starting point, not an end point; they ask “why” questions, look at all sides and encourage students to predict what will happen next. They ask questions frequently to make sure students are following along. They try to engage the whole class, and they don’t allow a few students to dominate the class. They keep students motivated with varied, lively approaches.

Great teachers form strong relationships with their students and show that they care about them as people. Great teachers are warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. Teachers with these qualities are known to stay after school and make themselves available to students and parents who need them. They are involved in school-wide committees and activities, and they demonstrate a commitment to the school.

Great teachers are masters of their subject matter.
They exhibit expertise in the subjects they are teaching and spend time continuing to gain new knowledge in their field. They present material in an enthusiastic manner and instill a hunger in their students to learn more on their own.

Great teachers communicate frequently with parents.
They reach parents through conferences and frequent written reports home. They don’t hesitate to pick up the telephone to call a parent if they are concerned about a student.

Signs of a Poor Teacher

If you notice any of the following warning signs, there may be a problem with your child’s teacher:

• Your child complains that his teacher singles him out repetitively with negative remarks.
• The teacher is the last one to arrive in the morning and the first to leave in the afternoon. He doesn’t return phone calls or respond to written communication.
• Your child rarely brings work home from school.
• Homework assignments are not returned.
• The teacher does not send home frequent reports or communications to parents.
• The teacher exhibits limited knowledge of the subject he is teaching.
• Lessons lack organization and planning.
• The teacher refuses to accept any input from parents.

In his book, Creative Training Techniques Handbook, Robert W. Pike (perhaps the number one training expert in the world today) states the following:

"If we want people to apply what they’ve learned when they’re back on the job, they’ve got to do two things: Buy-in to the concepts or skills we’ve introduced and retain them. Involvement is the key to both buy-in and retention. Some trainers argue against involvement because they fear it reduces their control. To them, lecture appears to give them more control over their participants. My experience is different. Properly used, participation requires much less effort on the part of the instructor because the learners can manage and control themselves—and they will—given the proper structure and opportunity. Over the years, I have learned to use an approach to group involvement that I call ‘instructor-led and participant-centered.’ It focuses as many of the learning activities as possible on the participants themselves. Sure, it requires some thought and creativity, but it can be a powerful learning tool that produces positive results."

Consider the following statistics on retention. We retain:

10 % of what we read,
20 % of what we hear,
30 % of what we see,
50 % of what we hear and see,
70 % of what we say, and
90 % of what we say and do.

(Taken from Communication for the Safety Professional, Robert Kornikau and Frank McElroy, National Safety Council: Chicago (1975), p 370.)

"Active learning is more effective than passive learning. But activity, in and of itself, doesn’t result in higher learning. Active learning occurs when students invest physical and mental energies in activities that help them make what they are learning meaningful, and when they are aware of that meaning-making." (Angelo, 1993, p 5.)

A leader is a teacher … indeed, they are synonymous. You cannot be one without being the other. What any great leader does is teach others to be responsible for themselves … for the results they obtain … to “lead” themselves to determine what to aim for and to effectively use their time and resources to move in that direction until their aim is realized! (Bob White)

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