What Makes a Truly Great Teacher?
This question has continued to come up again in conversation so I thought I would re-post it. Great discussion starter amongst colleagues!
This question was posed at my table last week at an Alberta Education Curriculum Coordinator meeting, and the ensuing discussion was inspiring. What is it that makes truly great teachers? One brought up the example of teachers, with only one or two years left in their careers, but who are embracing technology, new curriculum and seeking to forever improve their practise. What is it about such educators that sets them a part from the rest? What makes a teacher truly great?
I thought a lot about such a question, and reflected upon the great educators in my past, and the great ones in my present that I get to work with every day. I came up with the following list that, while it barely scratches the surface, I believe it gets at the essence of “greatness” in education.
- A great teacher is deeply moved by children. They are concerned with their well-being and honestly care to see them grow and develop. Such a great teacher believes in their abilities to affect change, believes in the possibility of making a difference, even if it is only in the life of one. Such a teacher is not satisfied with superficial relationships with their students, with simply covering objectives and delivering content, but in mentoring, encouraging, and lighting a fire deep within their students.
- A great teacher has a keen curiosity about many things. For some this is a zeal and passion for a certain subject in particular, for others it is a fascination with brain development, learning styles, technology, assessment, curriculum, athletics; for most it is a combination of many of the above. A great teacher is a life long learner, not only for themselves, but for the sake of others. They are always seeking to expand their knowledge, grow in their abilities, and continuously dig deeper in order to answer questions they themselves ask naturally due to their inquisitive nature.
- A great teacher is uncomfortable with being comfortable. With that I mean that a great teacher does not see success as a curriculum binder that one can follow day by day, step by step, year by year, without ever changing an activity, an approach or an assessment. Instead, a great teacher is okay with the intangible, okay with the fact that that binder will never ever really be “finished’ because there simply are too many great strides being made in technology and innovation, too many new ways to teach, and too many unique personalities and learning styles within their ever changing classrooms to ever have a finished binder. Instead, a great teacher always seeks to reinvent, why? Not because they like the extra work it brings so much as the fact that they like the greater results it produces. A great teacher is never comfortable or stagnant, but ever reaching, ever growing, ever improving.
- A great teacher is relevant. In all that they do, a great teacher evokes the why? and helps students see that the assignment they are giving, the book they are reading or the experiment they are performing does truly matter. Furthermore, a great teacher seeks to stay tied to the world in which their students live. While the lingo is not always easy to understand, knowing what is “cool” to your students is important and in some cases can be an instant bridge to a student that feels isolated and misunderstood. That relevance is not ruled by the majority, but somehow, a great teacher knows how to be relevant to each and every one of their students.
- A great teacher sees past today, and envisions the future. By this I mean that a great teacher believes that they can enact good, that they can plant a seed of possibility in a child. A great teacher does not need to see that seed come to fruition, but trusts that as time passes, the good that they do in that one year will make a difference.
And so I ask you – what do you think it is that makes a teacher truly great?