It seems all good teachers have the same four characteristics, whether they teach kindergarteners or medical school students. Their teaching methods address different learning styles; they love to teach; they love to learn; and they have a commanding presence in the classroom. These four ingredients, along with a sense of humour and a healthy measure of patience – qualities recommended for any occupation – are what make certain teachers stand out among their peers.
ADDRESSING DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES
Following the model set out in Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory, teachers find that most students have a preference for learning a certain way:
ü Auditory learners get the most out of spoken material like lectures and music.
ü Visual learners get the most out of visual material like images, body language, and diagrams.
ü Kinaesthetic learners get the most out of exercises where they attempt to perform the behaviour they are learning.
ü Many people are considered to be “multi-model” learners, having more than one strong learning style preference.
The best teachers are aware of these learning styles, teach to these styles as a matter of everyday practice, and show a willingness to adapt their teaching methods on the fly to help a straggling student catch up. An elementary school student learning basic Mathematics provides a simple example of such an adaptation. A visual learner who doesn’t understand fractions expressed as 1/2, 1/3, et cetera, usually “gets it” when one-half or one-third of a circle is blacked out. A kinaesthetic learner may need to make a pie chart of their own and black the circle out with their own marker before they understand the concept. A good teacher will recognize when he or she needs to shift learning styles so as to include the entire class. When a few students lag behind, good teachers are willing to take a moment explain things in a different way to help keep the class together.
ENTHUSIASM FOR TEACHING
Good teachers love their jobs. If you ask a good teacher whether they would do it all over again given the choice, they always answer “Yes.” Good teachers love teaching so much that they often end up teaching as much outside the classroom as they do while they’re on the job. When a good teacher encounters someone who needs help, they are generous with their information and their experience.
Fortunately, opportunities abound for good teachers to practice their craft in all sorts of settings. Some of the best teachers around make valuable contributions to Internet message boards and blogs. Many teachers earn extra money by teaching summer school or working during the summer as mentors or online essay graders. These individuals could choose to do virtually anything during their breaks from the school year, but they love teaching so much, they do it year-round.
ENTHUSIASM FOR LEARNING
A teacher who doesn’t like to learn is quickly drained of information and energy. Fortunately, administrators recognize this, and they fill the school year with seminars and other opportunities for teachers to recharge their batteries. Many school districts also encourage learning among the faculty by offering higher salaries to teachers who earn advanced degrees, like Masters or Doctoral degrees. These districts offer tuition reimbursement incentives, so teachers can get an advanced degree with little cash outlay. Good teachers take advantage of these learning opportunities because they love to learn, and they recognize that soaking up information and rejuvenating their minds is good for themselves and for their students.
COMMANDING PRESENCE IN THE CLASSROOM
A good teacher must have a commanding presence in the classroom. Students of all ages learn better from authority figures that they respect, because they are not constantly second-guessing what the teacher says and does. Having complete control over the classroom also discourages discipline problems in younger students. Good teachers don’t derive authority from being older or bigger or louder than their students. Good teachers radiate authority because of their experience and subject matter expertise in the classroom. Students can sense when they are in the presence of a masterful teacher.
PATIENCE AND A SENSE OF HUMOR
It’s hard to imagine any occupation where patience and a good sense of humour would not make one better at what he or she does. Teaching is no different. Patience is a preferred trait for those who teach young students; a sense of humour is absolutely required for those who teach adults. A teacher who has these qualities, who uses a variety of teaching methods, who loves to teach and learn, and who takes charge of their classroom is a very good teacher indeed.
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Read, Learn and Flourish!