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What are important characteristics of being a teacher? What are the two most important qualities or characteristics that contribute to being an effective teacher, and why do you feel that these characteristics are vital?

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lschertz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2012

write39 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Science, and Social Sciences

I believe the 2 most important qualities a teacher can have are empathy and the ability to adapt to change.

Empathy is a necessity in the education world.  If we cannot make the effort to understand where our students are coming from and why they are thinking/acting the way they are, we cannot hope to successfully educate them or make a difference to them.  It is our ability to emphathize and show them that we understand it is difficult to be a kid that allows us to connect and forge an educational bond with students.  Think about it: it is probably the students that you can least empathize with - for whatever reason (lack of experience, student won't give any clues to self, etc) - that you have the hardest time connecting with and tapping into.

The importance of the ability to adapt to change should be obvious to those of us in the education world.  If a teacher cannot adapt on-the-spot, her day-to-day lessons are less successful than they should be.  If she cannot adapt to change within the educational research world - change in best practice theory - she will be unsuccessful.  We must be able to change and adapt to new best practice in order to best educate ou students.

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dhollweg eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2012

write30 answers

starTop subject is Literature

Here is something different I will add to the mix: the understanding that we are teaching skills to kids who are moving in a world that is exponentially moving forward. I'm an English teacher, but it doesn't matter if you are Art or Social Studies or Consumer Family Studies or Music or any other. I completely agree with the above answers of patience and mastery and communication and management. But when it comes down to it, I'm not pushing my content on students; I'm not trying to be the "sage on the stage" and pretend that my content area is the be all, end all. We need to understand that teaching them to be critical thinkers, creative thinkers, problem solvers, is essential in the world in which they are going to live. 

I've been part of the Literacy Design Collaborative that is working in many states with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, assisting teachers in instruction with the Common Core State Standards, and I've seen how crucial it is to teach these kids skills, particularly in your content area. How to read and write in History, Biology, Photography, and so forth. Each of our areas is unique, with specific types of reading and writing that are associated with them. 

Understanding that these kids need a higher bar, with stronger skills, and a teacher who instructs them and models them and allows them to problem solve together in the classroom to hunt for evidence and solutions is vital in this next shift of education. That's what the effective educator will do.

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Lizette Eaves eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2009

write578 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

I've often posed this question to my student teachers during their first few weeks in my class.  The answers are often varying and startling.  There are many qualities mentioned that are required of a good teacher.  Of course patience and content knowledge key to anyone hoping to impart knowledge to the next generation.

I think the ability to be flexible and think on your feet is a skill which cannot be taught but that is invaluable in the classroom.  How many times have you had your lesson perfectly plan only to have a fire drill throw it all away?  Has anyone else just knew that they had perfectly taught a lesson only to have their students do poorly on the exam?  The unexpected can be expected in the classroom.  It is the good teacher who is not phased by the alarms, upheavals, and unforeseen in the classroom.  I've seen the teachers who can't handle these unexpected interruptions get too caught up and eventually have faded away. 

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write4,625 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

I have to say that the above answers are all correct. Personally, I believe that there are many important characteristics for one to possess if he or she is looking to become a teacher.

First, one must possess a love and mastery of their subject. Second, one must possess patience. Third, one must possess empathy and sympathy. One must also be able to manage time, emotions, and multiple tasks.

Today, teachers must not only be educators, they are also parents, counselors, and mediators. All characteristics associated with each of these mentioned are needed as well. It is no longer just about teaching the subject.

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clairewait eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write2,328 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Science

All of the above posts are the answers I would have answered before I became a public school educator.

Today, in America, if you wish to teach public school, I think the number one skill you need to possess (and be working on the hardest) is management.

Nothing matters in the classroom if people management, behavioral management, and subject matter management are not present. In fact, I'd go so far as to say a teacher who is strong in classroom control and slightly weaker in knowledge is far better in today's classroom than one with plenty of knowledge but not enough classroom control.

Classroom management also trickles into parental relationships, administration balance, and the overall functioning of the educational system as a whole. I firmly believe that the biggest problem in the American education system today is a lack of proper management, from the top to the very bottom.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2012

write2,471 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

I would say that the most important characteristic of a teacher is having a heart for children and the ability to treat them with respect.  I have seen very few teacher that walk into a classroom and experience great success with an aura of superiority.  Teachers need to build relationships and not treat students as little kids.  That will go a long way in building an incredible career as a teacher.

In response to #7, a great deal of research exists to counter your argument.  I'm somewhat on the fence, so I'm not attacking your stance, but many educational scholars would argue that a paradigm shift is occurring (or already occurred) that doesn't require teachers to be the master of knowledge.  Students are getting their knowledge from various forms of media all around them, and the role of educators shouldn't be to deliver knowledge but rather to guide students in discovering information and helping them interpret it.  Instead of schools being knowledge delivery systems, the should be vast workshops where students, guided by a skilled educator, unlock their own potential.  These scholars would argue that the difference in a history having six hours or sixty hours is minimal, since that would still only represent a fraction of the information available to students.  Therefore, it is more important that a teacher be able to ask the right questions instead of being able to answer them all.

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,872 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

I would emphasize content area knowledge as well, primarily because it has become less of an emphasis in many of the places I've taught in recent years. This is especially the case, it seems to me, in history classrooms, and it is reflected in the education programs at many of the universities that are turning out our teachers--many education degrees with a certification in history require only six credit hours of history, and none in any sort of course where historical method is taught. What people miss, in my opinion, is that content area knowledge and pedagogy are intertwined--understanding the material helps one in being able to present it in ways that encourage critical thinking. As for the other characteristics, I think patience, thick skin, empathy and the rest of the things cited above are important as well, but I've not really found it to be the case (in my admittedly very narrow experience) that students have become less respectful. 

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write7,077 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

It's hard to add better answers than those found in the previous posts. I think patience, a love of young people and a thorough knowledge of the subject matter are certainly the most important aspects of becoming a good teacher. In today's classrooms, however, having thick skin is also a necessity since teachers rarely receive the respect they once had in the past: Dealing with today's students, parents and administrators often means accepting undue criticism and blame for problems that are beyond a teacher's control.

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carol-davis eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2004

write1,291 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

As a person who has spent more than forty-five years as a teacher,  I have been exposed to a wide variety of people who have aspired to be educators.  In that time, no more than 25 % actually walked among the noble profession as a "sensei" or master teacher.  Those scant few had several admirable qualities:

  • intelligent, mastery of subject, logical, reasonable, calm, fair, personable, insightful, authoritative [without hubris], happy, well-rounded, flexible, and loving of her fellow man. 

Few people have all of those qualities. I have seen a few who could teach in the classroom, handle problems with discipline and have the child feel better about himself afterwards.  Specifically, this lady could then be the first responder on the play ground for a broken arm and calm the child until the parents and ambulance arrived. Then, she could step into a parent-teacher meeting and have the parents eating out of her hands.  Furthermore, she treated everyone the same, shared all of her materials, and could make a heck of a "Margarita." What a teacher/woman!

Just two qualities that are needed is too hard.  There are so many that are required.  Obviously, intelligence and knowledge of the subject are necessities, but that does not make a teacher. 

Hmmm...The ability to see into situations that require a common sense approach and not educationese, particularly with students and parents.  Students need to understand where they go wrong and have help facing what needs to be done to fix the problems. 

Parents need to have the truth given to them and not white-washed to get them out of the teacher's face. However, only common sense will take the teacher through that situation.  No one wants to hear about what the child did wrong without a solution to help the problem. This must come from someone who can relate well to the parents.

Great teachers communicate frequently with parents. They reach parents through conferences and frequent written reports home. They don't hesitate to pick up the telephone to call a parent if they are concerned about a student.

A love and compassion for people would be the other quality essential for an effective teacher. Today, children are miniature adults with problems that most of did not face until we were far into our adulthood.  An awareness of children's home lives and their struggles will help the teacher provide that safe and secure place that the student can come to and find his own identity every day that he spends with the compassionate educator.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

Both of the previous posts are absolutely correct about what it takes to be a good teacher.  I would add two things that can also help.

First, a good teacher ought to be organized in some important ways.  They should be able to, at the very least, present their lessons in an organized and coherent way.  They should not be haphazard in their approach.

Second, a good teacher ought to be flexible.  Things happen in the course of any day and even of any one class period.  There are “teachable moments.”  Teachers must be able to respond to changing conditions and know when to alter their plans.

This shows one of the difficulties of teaching; these two things that teachers have to be can come into conflict with one another.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write15,967 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Teaching is an extremely complex task, and much of it comes down to personality.  Teachers can have very different styles and still be effective.  One of the most articles I read on the subject distills good teaching down to five personality traits: open mind, flexibility and patience, dedication, positive attitude, and high expectations.  Notice that these are traits we can encourage in teachers, but not ones we can necessarily teach.

Unless you have an open mind, a good sense of humor, patience and excellent people skills, teaching may not be your calling. (see second link)

One of my favorite educational theorists is Jonathan Kozol.  He wrote an interesting book a few years ago called Letters to a Young Teacher, a compilation of letters he wrote to a new teacher he was mentoring.  He argues that new teachers need emotional support as well as training for the demanding job of teaching.

[Teachers need to learn about]…creating deep connections with the children, keeping a sense of humor, bringing their own interests into the classroom, and visiting parents at home. (see first link)

In the end, I have come to realize that each teacher needs to find his or her own way.  There are no right and wrongs sometimes.  Teaching is about assessing the situation and bringing all you’ve got to meet the challenges.

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Inuk Lee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write4,794 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

This is a great question. 

First, I would say that a teacher must know his or her material extremely well. This might sound like a given, but sometimes teachers are not as well versed in the subject matter as they should be. You cannot teach something that you have not mastered. In addition to this point, mastery over a subject matter will enable a teacher to teach in different styles and methods to help students understand better. In short, facility in teaching presupposes mastery. 

Second, relationship build with students is also important. Students should genuinely feel that there teachers care about them. When this level of trust is present, students will put in more effort. 

Finally, teachers must have patience. 


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