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13 Ways to Be an Exceptional Teacher

13 Ways to Be an Exceptional Teacher

GtQuick—tell me the name of your most favourite teacher ever.

The one who influenced you the most; the one who had maximum impact; the one who brought out the best in you and made you think you could do anything you set your mind to. Made you feel special.

It could have been Mrs Brown who taught you Art and brought out the artist in you. Perhaps it was Mr Peters who showed you how great an athlete you are. Or perhaps the high school teacher who convinced you to rethink your disdain for Mathematics in case you might want to pursue the field of architecture.

You do remember them, right? Most people do. People often acknowledge their teachers at their graduation ceremonies, and when they get into the profession of their dreams. They speak of them fondly when they have their own kids, especially when they start school.

What makes these exceptional teachers so different from the vast majority of educators out there?

#1 They relinquish control

“A good teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” – Thomas Carruthers

The teacher who takes on the role of a facilitator rather than the authority is an absolutely joy to learn from. They understand that their job is not to be the keeper of knowledge, but a vessel to pass it on.

They are not here to dictate, but to encourage. They are the best of them all.

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#2 They learn on the job

Fancy degrees don’t produce fantastic teachers, although the formal know-how of theory and practicum does help.

People who are naturally good at teaching come across like they were born to do this. They hardly need instruction on how to teach others, and yet they are willing to learn and continue to hone their skills in the classroom. Much like doctors or mechanics, they get to practice and hone their skills as they work.

#3 They aren’t always fun

People often expect teachers to be great entertainers, but you know what? That isn’t part of their job description.

Teachers need to do their jobs, which is to make their students leave the classroom with more knowledge and skills they came with; their main goal is to make you learn.

Sometimes, they need to be tough, or teach lessons that are boring or dry. But they do it anyway. They know that learning is not all fun, and that sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and plod on regardless. They’re not performers, and are not there to entertain you. They’re there to do their job.

#4 They don’t know everything

They don’t come to the classroom with the mindset of being the experts; that there is nothing left for them to learn.

Every day there is some new technological advancement, or a latest technique in classroom management waiting to be explored and mastered. And don’t forget the students—teachers also learn from their own pupils.

True teachers are learners first.  

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#5 They begin with the curriculum and then add to it

A great teacher has incredible knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject matter they are teaching.

Not only do they have thorough knowledge of the curriculum and other standards that they must uphold in the classroom, they strive to exceed them.  

#6 They are engaging

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

They have a special kind of energy. They are prepared to answer questions and keep the material interesting for the students, and are masters of explanation.

#7 They don’t look for an ideal student

“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”  – Donald D. Quinn

Great teachers treat each student differently and they don’t label today’s learners as worse then yesteryears’. They know times have changed and students are constantly bombarded by hundreds and thousands of messages competing for their attention.

Diversity and disability makes for an interesting classroom experience, although not necessarily an easy one for the instructor. Teachers know this also and work with it. They will never call anyone a lost cause. They are confident that anyone will do well with the right kind of support.

“A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard.” – Eliphas Levi

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You won’t catch them whining about how difficult it is to teach today.

#8 They are approachable

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” – Dan Rather

Would you expect a teacher to know every student on a personal level? That’s not realistic, but what is possible is that the teacher cares for every student in the classroom. Great teachers may not know each child personally, but they do have compassion for all of their students, and their influence far exceeds their job description.

#9 They make learning easy

“A good teacher is a master of simplification and an enemy of simplism.” – Louis A. Berman

Great teachers create an environment that is ideal for learning and fosters positive behaviours. They don’t discipline, but manage; they don’t dictate but encourage. They create a place where each learner operates on a sense of belonging, and then they start their teaching.

They don’t stick to tried and tested approaches—they mix things up and take things up a notch every time.

#10 They measure their success in their own ways

“A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens you own expectations.” – Patricia Neal

Teachers do expect a lot from you, as they want you to do your best. However, the best ones measure success in terms of progress, not by the number of As you are getting.

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#11 They’re passionate

“The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward

We all want to learn from teachers who are not only passionate about teaching, but passionate about life.

They aren’t just interested in their area of expertise; they are interesting people to hang out with. They will talk to you about the upset at the Footy final or will exchange comments on recent trip taken by the prime minister. You can pretty much talk to them about anything, and they would be interested, just as long as you are.  

#12 They show their pride in you

Do you remember how you felt when you got a star or a sticker when you did something good as a child? How about a mention and a certificate from your teacher at the school assembly? Did you have a teacher in college who put up your assignment and told everyone that it was the standard he was looking for?

Did you get a little embarrassed? Sure you did, but didn’t it also make your heart leap for joy? Of course it did. We all adore teachers who respect us for putting in our best, going the extra mile and doing more than what was required.

Great teachers applaud effort and progress, rather than measuring how good you are at something. That alone speaks volumes about their character.  

#13 They teach for the right reasons

“No man can be a good teacher unless he has feelings of warm affection toward his pupils and a genuine desire to impart to them what he believes to be of value.” – Bertrand Russell

The best teachers don’t get into this profession for money, but because they want to make a difference.

Teaching can be the most frustrating profession, and yet the most rewarding one, too. People who are born to teach understand that.

Do you?

More by this author

Marya Jan

Marya is a business strategist. She shares tips about life and success on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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