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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 October 22, 2020

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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