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What Makes a Good Teacher?

Warm, Creative, Supportive, Prepared, and Engaging Teachers Resonate Best With Students

Grown-ups, no matter how far removed they are from their school years, can likely still name a favorite teacher. Great teachers have a way of remaining in the memories of those they taught for many years. Whether it was Miss Katie the preschool teacher and her puppet shows about expressing feelings or kindergarten teacher Mr. Jacobs and how well he explained marine ecosystems through fishing stories, most of us can recall a favorite early childhood or elementary school teacher.

When we finish high school, we finish as graduates of a few dozen teachers. If we go on to college or technical school afterward, we become pupils of dozens more. In all those years as a student, what makes good teachers noteworthy? What makes us remember them years and decades after they taught us? Outstanding teachers have several common characteristics. They:

  • Love children
  • Are prepared
  • Know their subject matter
  • Engage students
  • Challenge their students
  • Teach lifelong lessons
  • Have excellent communication skills

Love and value students

It should go without saying, but if you don’t enjoy the company of young people, elementary education is probably not the field for you. Good teachers love their students and demonstrate their resolve to better the lives of future generations in their daily work. They respect their students, regardless of their age and skill, and make them feel special, important, and unique.

By creating a welcoming environment, they invite children to be themselves in a setting where they feel safe to express their full range of feelings. With warmth and compassion, they listen to concerns voiced by students and parents and build nurturing classrooms where students can feel a sense of belonging.1

Be prepared

The most effective teachers don’t just assign homework, they also complete their own. Much like a professional basketball coach makes game plans for the team, an effective teacher strategically plans for class with lesson plans.

In the lesson plans, the teacher devises learning goals for the day and the requisite assignments to reinforce their teaching. The assignments allow students to practice and strengthen new skill areas.2 Teachers also spend significant time outside instruction periods planning for future lessons and grading papers, allowing students to receive quick feedback. Great teachers use this feedback to determine when additional time should be spent on a tough skill, if specific children need more individualized attention, and when it’s best to take a new approach to better reach the students.3

Know your subject matter

If you want to become a teacher, you need a deep understanding of your subject matter. School districts often require teachers to complete prerequisites or majors in the subject they’ll teach—comprehensive knowledge of a subject area is essential in effectively teaching the next generation.

And the best teachers never stop learning. When they’re most successful, they transfer their love of learning to their students. These instructors keep abreast of new knowledge in their fields as well as emerging teaching strategies, always trying to build their knowledge base for better student education.1 When students see teachers that love learning, it becomes infectious.

Engage students

When you ask people about a favorite teacher, chances are they have an anecdote about a unique or creative tactic the teacher used. Whether it’s sharing a special book, song, or movie; using technology; or taking another imaginative approach, children appreciate the extra effort. A teacher dressed in period costume can make history more interesting. Likewise, a nature hike can make learning about deciduous trees more remarkable.

When teachers make lessons interesting and memorable, children become more engaged and eager to learn. Resourceful and inventive teachers are unforgettable—and, often, so are their lessons.4

The most engaging teachers also understand the disparate learning styles of their students and strive to reach each one. Great teachers are attentive and aware of the unique needs and abilities of the children in their class, and they work to meet those needs in an inspiring way.5

Challenge students

In the short term, students often enjoy easy teachers with low expectations. But over time, many recall and reminisce about tougher teachers that held high expectations and pushed them to be better students. Great teachers don’t give up on students with low grades or short attention spans. They also don’t ignore or bore high achievers. They have high expectations, are highly motivating, and believe in all of their students.2

Beyond high expectations, good teachers challenge their students. Students tend to enjoy challenges, as long as they’re presented in a kind spirit.6 One method of motivation is asking thoughtful questions. Instead of focusing solely on facts, teachers can ask “why” questions to get students thinking about sequencing and making predictions about the world.2 When teachers challenge their students, they push them to work harder, become better, and achieve more than they could imagine.

Teach lifelong lessons

One of the biggest privileges of being a teacher is helping students to not only learn academic subjects, but to become better people. This character education is a responsibility that teachers share with parents, caregivers, families, schools, and community organizations. By listening to students, letting them know they’re valuable, and giving them a supportive and nurturing classroom environment, teachers go a long way in imparting important lessons about teamwork, open-mindedness, and working through feelings and emotions to future generations.7

Communicate well, and with varied audiences

Great teachers are also excellent communicators. They communicate effectively with all sorts of audiences: students, parents, school administrators, and co-workers. Good teachers have strong relationships with their students by being warm, available, and kind. They reach out to parents often, with both updates and concerns. They also work with administrators and other teachers to improve their own teaching as well as the schools at which they teach. They’re active participants with all stakeholders, and work earnestly with all groups.2

Outstanding teachers excel in so many areas. They work as educators first and foremost, but also as trusted friends, motivational speakers, classroom executives, subject matter experts, cheerleaders, and entertainers. With the heavy yet rewarding responsibility of educating the next generation, they encourage and inspire innumerable students as they become learned and established adults.

If a career as a certified teacher appeals to you, Walden University, an accredited university with online teaching degree programs, offers a BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) online. Its online bachelor’s program prepares students for teacher licensure en route to fulfilling careers in elementary education.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,