The interest in the qualities of good teachers is not new. This post includes some thoughts on a study I conducted a few years ago with two groups of different learners (50 adults and 60 young learners between 11-13).  The adults who took part in this interim study were contacted by me directly. The young learners were asked the questions by my trainees who were their teachers.

Everyone was asked to describe a teacher who has remained ‘unforgettable’ to them, to tell us what they used to (or still) do and what sort of person they were ( or still are).

The second question invited the learners to give new or future teachers of English some advice so that they, too, could one day enter their students’ private “halls of fame”.

The questions were asked in English and in the students’ native language (Greek).
The list of attributes which follows is an attempt to present a mass of data which was not always described in the very same words by everyone – though there was no ambition other than to explore the views of learners and conduct an interim study which could be followed by more systematic work. Keeping in mind that this is not a numerical quantitative research, a rough ranking has been attempted.
(See table of results below )

Young  Learners’ Ranking Adult  Learners’ Ranking
Are friendly 1
Are firm but not strict 2
Teach Motivating & Fun lessons 3 6
Involve all learners; do not  discriminate 4 5
Have a good sense of humour 5 18
Do not burden Learners with  busywork 6
Are passionate/ enthusiastic about  teaching 7 2
Are patient/ tolerant/ sympathetic 8 3
Encourage & Reward all learners 9 9
Are calm and relaxed 10
Create an atmosphere of goodwill 11
Respect learners and their ideas 12
Can manage a class very efficiently 13 4
Do not dominate their classes 14
Their lessons have ‘surprises’ 15
Don’t hesitate to improvise 16
Use audiovisual materials  confidently 17
Are focused on the learners 18 17
Are calm/ cool/ relaxed/ laid back 19 20
Are creative with materials &  techniques 20 1
Have good communication skills 7
Are knowledgeable about their subject 8
Are properly qualified 10
Are organized 11
Are confident 12
Can explain well 13
Are supportive 14
Are competent language users 15
Understand/know their  learners well 16
Interesting as people 19

The rankings in contrast

What they all said

Rankings 1-10 received the highest attention mentioned by more than 60% of the respondents.

The rankings, show a tendency of younger learners to value certain personal qualities more and dwell less on subject knowledge and technical perfection, while adult learners value the teacher’s subject knowledge and technical know-how to a greater degree.

Adults are challenged by teachers who use sophisticated and motivating techniques, while children, even if bored to tears by the lesson, can be captivated by a high degree of energy, enthusiasm and a teacher who smiles and is affectionate.

What is notable in this investigation is the very great emphasis all age groups place on the personality of the teacher, a crucial key determinant to the success or failure of a lesson, a class, a learner – a factor often neglected by many colleagues who presume that methodology is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately, this does not quite work out.

To reach the high standards of a professional educator, it seems just as important to develop personally as well as professionally in order to finally obtain one’s rightful place in one’s students’ “hall of fame” .

Adults and children agree on what teachers they associated with unsuccessful learning experiences were like or did (adults) or as advice to new teachers in terms of what to avoid (children).

In random fashion, as these are things are not mentioned by enough learners to really be able to rank in any way, they don’t want teachers who are:

… always in a bad mood
… “know-alls’
… do not inspire respect
… are always negative
… are indifferent to teaching
… show no love for their subject
… do not explain at all
… make them feel anxious
… rude to them
… sarcastic

Can this be achieved?

Some teachers seem to be able to achieve  ’hall-of-fame’ status without any great effort, while others struggle on.

Can this status be achieved – this is really the big question.

There is a very interesting series of videos on Teachers TV, called “From Good to Outstanding” and you might like to view one of the videos here to consider the whole notion of helping a teacher reach that status.

Google the phrase “good teacher qualities” and you will come up with almost 100,000 results…. may be that is how many educators are concerned with this issue. Without the quotation marks (Boolean search), there are many more. Less than 1/10 mentions any type of research and I wonder how many of those have involved students. There is an interesting citation here which suggests that the results of such investigations are powerless in improving the quality of teaching; however, my understanding is that the researches mention this in the context of attempting to quantify this type of research, something which may be very difficult indeed.

This is food for thought and further investigations to confirm or reject the suspicion that it is all in the teacher’s persona and personal aura (or ‘presence”), these being able to cover up for technical or other weaknesses.

The need for teacher education, continuous professional development, improvement of classroom skills , work on one’s language performance and awareness, and a broader view and depth of professional understanding are all seen as very necessary in any teacher’s life.

Personal Qualities Rule

Yet, the learners are telling us that all the knowledge and skills needed, expected and demanded, are as nothing if they do not pass through the filter of a personality which is mature, aware of self, sensitive and unbiased and ready and game for challenge and change.

The message from our learners is clear and unambiguous though this does not make the way to achieving those ends any smoother or easier.

It does present us though with an exciting challenge and, I should add, with food for thought and scope for work to last us for three, not just one lifetime.

Those who have the ‘passion and enthusiasm’ for the profession demanded by our learners will not be frightened, will find their own way to professional growth and personal and professional fulfillment, even though the task may look daunting. After all, isn’t this the reason they chose this job in the first place?

Perhaps, the biggest issue lies in the selection of the right individuals who have the potential to be great educators.

But that is where every educational system breaks down completely.

Some interesting further reading

  1. Rosenshine, B, & Furst, N.F., 1971, Research on Teacher Performance Criteria. Research in Teacher Education: A Symposium, Ed. B.O. Smith, Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice Hall
  2. Ryans, D. G. 1960, Characteristics of Teachers. Washington D.C.: American Council on Teachers
  3. RSA/UCLES, 1997, Notes for the Guidance of the Conduct of Assessments, from the DOTE & DTEFLA manuals issued to all Recognised RSA Centres

The image used in this post is of a great teacher, Vicky Zurakowski, who was my trainee on a DELTA course (2007-2009) and is used with her permission.

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