How do I use my personal qualities to become a good teacher?


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Let me just add a professor's perspective. The job of Professor has four overlapping components: scholarship, teaching, community outreach, and in-university service. For several reasons, the teaching aspect is too often neglected, not the least of which is that promotion and tenure depend most heavily on one's reputation and contributions to his/ her field. When a student in graduate school asks about teaching, he/ she is told "We all know how to teach." In actual practice, a professor prepares a syllabus, which is as much a "contract" between school and student as it is a schedule of assignments, quizzes, tests, projects, and content.

A good teacher (on this level) is one who gives as much energy and creativity to this aspect of the job as to the scholarship element of his/ her work. In practice, this takes the form of finding striking deviations of the standard "canon" (often frozen in anthologies), seeking individualized techniques for individualized students, bringing fresh contemporary scholarship to the classroom (not merely repeating and relying on the scholarship he/ she was taught), and relating historical models to modern life. In other words, don't "phone in" your teaching—bring your own personal enthusiasm for the topic into the classroom with you. Finally, pay attention to the bursts of real creativity shown by your students.

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Without personally knowing you, this is a very tough question to answer. If I knew you, I could tailor my answer to focus on which of your personality traits could help you become a better educator.  

I've been teaching for thirteen years, so I do consider myself an expert in my field; however, there is always room for improvement in my own pedagogy. I would also like to say that there is no single best mold for a teacher. Different teachers of different ages and different subjects all have different styles. What works for one teacher may or may not work for a different teacher, but I do believe all good teachers share some personality traits. I will discuss a few of those, and you can compare those to your own personal qualities.  

One trait I believe is integral to being a teacher is patience. Regardless of the age group you teach, patience is going to be important. You will need patience when a class doesn't understand the lesson you are teaching. You will need patience when dealing with students who misbehave. You will need patience when dealing with parents who think they know more about how to do your job than you do.  

I also believe most good teachers are creative thinkers. That doesn't necessarily mean being creative with arts, crafts, and bulletin boards. Creative thinking is necessary when a class of students flat out doesn't understand the concept you are teaching. You will need to come up with a different way of teaching the content, and what works for one class might not work for other classes. You can't possibly hope to plan out everything in advance, which is why creative thinking skills are necessary.  

Third, good teachers like kids. If you don't like young people, don't be a teacher.  

Fourth, good teachers know how to accept failure and shake it off. There are going to be times when you design a lesson you believe will work flawlessly, and every student will learn amazing things because of the brilliant way you designed it. Then, for one reason or another, it will all blow up in your face. Don't beat yourself up. Laugh it off and make it better.

Good teachers are honest with their students. If students catch you in a lie, you lose all credibility for a very long time. If you don't know something, it's okay to admit it.  

Good teachers have a flexible attitude. There are going to be times when a lesson is going great. Kids are learning and having fun, and everything is on schedule. Then the fire alarm will ring. Everything will be thrown off, and you will have to adapt to the new situation you could not have possibly planned for in advance.

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How do I use my personal qualities to become a good teacher?

Everyone has different personal qualities, so your response will be about the unique you.  As Parker Palmer said, "We teach who we are."  Let's talk about some qualities people have and how they can make a person a good teacher, and then I'll share with you some qualities I hope make me a good teacher.

If you are shy, don't think you can't be a good teacher.  You can use that to your advantage.  Students sense when a teacher is shy, and it can make them more open to you. You aren't going to come on too strongly, so they won't back away.  You will also have more empathy for the shy students, able to draw them out more easily.

If you are a very honest person, that will shine through in everything you do in the classroom.  You will be a role model for honesty. If you are teaching students about academic honesty, for example, you will do so with great conviction.  And students will take you very seriously.

If you are a flexible person, that is a great quality to bring to teaching.  No matter how well we plan, things always happen to throw off our plans, and a flexible teacher can deal with this more easily. We might be interrupted with announcements or have a day when half the class is missing and the group project planned cannot possibly work.  A good teacher deals with these things and stays unruffled and in control.

I like to think that my sense of humor has made me a good teacher, able to find humor in everyday moments in the classroom and able to laugh at myself when I make a mistake.  And I do make mistakes.  Sometimes I even tell little stories about some of my mistakes.  The students laugh, but they are also learning that even teachers are not perfect, and that it's always good to be able to laugh at yourself at least a little.

I am also a very curious person, and this, too, I think, has made me a good teacher.  I am curious about my students, who they are, what they believe, what knowledge they have that I don't have.  My curiosity is also what makes me knowledgeable in my content areas and sometimes even beyond my content areas. It makes me a lifelong learner, which every teacher really should be. 

I don't know if you have done any practice teaching yet, but if you have, try to reflect upon what it is about you that makes students respond to you, and that should help you with this assignment.  What you do want to do is understand that you cannot change who you are and that you have some valuable qualities that will make you a good teacher. You will be able to take some satisfaction in teaching who you are.

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