What makes a good teacher?


Teacher in action

There are thousands of excellent teachers working tirelessly across the UK. However, occasionally there are teachers who stand out from the rest. These are the skilled enthusiasts who transmit their love for a subject to their students, often with great results. With the right teacher, a student who struggles at long division becomes a mathematician, and those who dislike English become poets. Despite the benefits, it’s often hard to define what makes a particular teacher so effective.

Knowledge of subject

The first and most obvious trait for a good teacher is an enthusiasm for their subject. The thinking goes that if they are interested in what they’re teaching, the students will be too. A teacher with a profound knowledge of their subject will be able to draw upon a much wider pool of information.

If a lesson plan isn’t working or students are failing to engage with a particular section of the material, the teacher in question can change it and draw focus to a related issue instead. It also gives the students the sense that the teacher is in complete command of the material. They can feel confident that any question they ask will be answered with authority.

Classroom skills

In an article from The Guardian, students were asked whether a certain teacher had inspired them to succeed in a subject, and why they found that person to be so transformative. They gave a variety of answers, including:

  • The teacher boosted their confidence in a subject.
  • They offered interesting ways of looking at a subject, and inspired students.
  • A great teacher knew when to challenge students and when to relax, to avoid burnout.
  • Teachers took an interest in a student on a personal level, making them approachable for their students.
  • Students responded well when teachers moved around the classroom, injecting energy into a class and into a subject.
  • Trust and respect were felt to be mutual.

Although young people gave different answers, they all took a subsequent interest in the material that seemed to take them beyond the classroom, whether that was extra study or an ambition to use that subject in the future.

Expectations and discipline

In addition, students work best when they understand the boundaries in a classroom. Writing for the Telegraph, Barnaby Lenon explains:

“Good teachers are those whom pupils will respect – and slightly fear if necessary. They are completely in control of what’s going on around them. Pupils know the teacher will notice if they are misbehaving or if their work is incomplete or copied from another child and will take action – punish the child, perhaps, or require the work to be redone. But the best teachers are not disciplinarians. They are a velvet hand in an iron glove. Pupils come to know, over time, that they are warm and generous. But they are not to be messed with. Discipline has to come first.”

But this discipline is accepted only in exchange for a teacher’s hard work. If the lessons are interesting and well-planned, if work is returned marked and on time, if students feel that they are being encouraged to progress, then the need for discipline is rare.

Being a good teacher is clearly about control – over the material, over the classroom and over lesson planning. And the student response is clear to see.

Back to listing