Throughout their academic careers, students are going to encounter numerous teachers. Some will be good, some will be bad, and (hopefully) a few will be great.
It’s the great teachers who leave lasting impacts on students. They’re the ones who perhaps challenged what the student thought, or pushed them to work a little differently than they were comfortable with. Maybe they inspired their students to set new goals or work even harder for the ones they already had. Great teachers are the ones students will think about long after they’ve left school. And it turns out; they may all have a few things in common.
Rob Jenkins, a faculty member at Georgia Perimeter College, wrote The 4 Properties of Powerful Teachers for the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which he details qualities he believes all great teachers possess, no matter the subject or grade level.
The first quality is he shares is all great teachers seem to have similar personality traits. He writes, “Great teachers tend to be good-natured and approachable, as opposed to sour or foreboding; professional without being aloof.” He also lists several other traits of teachers including being comfortable in their own skin and creativity.
Ultimately, these traits add up to someone who sounds like a good person, in addition to a great teacher.
Next, Jenkins talks about presence, or the ability to own whatever room you’re in. It’s a quality that comes to mind when thinking about any career that requires a person to hold their own in front of other people. With great teachers though, Jenkins points out, presence isn’t just about commanding the room, but also being physically and mentally present with students and subject matter.
In college, some teachers, even good ones, can come off as distracted when working with students. This is especially true when teachers are working on their own research projects when not in the classroom. The ability to truly connect with students and class material rather than “phoning it in” can really separate good teachers from great ones.
Next on the list of traits is preparation. Jenkins writes, “Knowing what you’re talking about can compensate for a number of other deficiencies, such as wearing mismatched socks, telling lame jokes, or not having an Instagram account.” It’s so much easier to respect a teacher who clearly knows what they are doing, and has prepared for the days class as much as they expect their students to.
No one is going to call their teacher who read off the PowerPoint slides every lecture and never strayed from the syllabus great. Instead, it will be the ones who knew enough about their subject and classes to truly engage their students while still teaching the material who are remembered most positively.
The final quality Jenkins names is passion, and he calls it the most important. In the article, he writes, “Passion, or love, manifests itself in the classroom in two ways: love for students and love for your subject matter.”
Students know when their teachers don’t like them, either individually or as a whole class. They can also pick up on when the teacher would rather be doing anything else than standing in front of a classroom.
However, when a teacher is obviously invested in their students and their subject, it can make even the most seemingly boring classes stand out as favorites. An engaged, prepared, passionate teacher will always be remembered as a great one.
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