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What makes a good teacher?

See also: The Elements of a Good Teacher (forum discussion)

I run a website where a lot of kids hang out and talk about school and all sorts of things. Something that is a recurring theme there is how some teachers are about as creative as a stuck record when it comes to lesson planning. Many others have complained about their teachers having the manners of a rabid boar. Since this seems to be quite a problem for these young people, I have decided to ask them what they think makes a good teacher, and have compiled the results together in this guide... which will hopefully prevent teachers who read it from becoming another heated discussion on my site.

The Qualities and Characteristics of a Good Teacher

  • Good teachers treat their students with respect
  • Good teachers don't have double standards
  • Good teachers are honest
  • Good teachers give their students a lot of choice in their assignments
  • Good teachers have creative ways of presenting class
  • Good teachers get to know their students individually
  • Good teachers stand up for their students
  • Good teachers let students listen to music (with headphones on!)
  • Good teachers don't give much or any homework

How to gain the respect of your students & make classes interesting

This guide is basically divided into two sections - how to earn the respect of your students, and how to make your classes interesting.

How to earn the respect of your students

There seems to be a common misconception among teachers that being respected by your students means that they "shut up and do everything you command". You could probably do it this way if you want, but I assure you, your students will despise your class.

The basic first step to earn their respect is to simply be nice to them. Now, this doesn't mean you should let them walk all over you, but it does mean you shouldn't walk all over them either. You will need to attain some sort of balance. First of all, if you are having a bad day (as we all do from time to time), the best would be to tell your class, so that they can be careful to not aggravate you. That of course doesn't mean someone won't annoy you, but if this happens then at least an angry outburst from you won't be completely unexpected, and since you announced it to begin with, the others should be more likely to accept your apology if you took it out on someone undeserving. Also accept that some of your students may be having a bad day as well, and treat them the way you would want to be treated in such a situation.

Encourage your students to call you by your first name instead of Mr/Mrs etc. This creates a more friendly atmosphere and helps to do away with the idea that you're an authority figure over them, and will encourage them to be more open and friendly with you.

Try to get to know your students individually. Get to know what they like/dislike, their ideas and needs. This can be a lot of work, especially if you teach at a large school, but if you can grade all that homework and keep track of who the good/bad kids are, you should be able to remember a few personal traits as well.

Be honest with your students. Especially when they ask things like "When will I ever use this in real life?". One thing a lot of kids hate is when teachers tell them that it's important to know things like the formula for a parabola. Most people will never use that knowledge again.

Grade things on time. Just as you would expect your students to hand projects in on time, you should set the example by being timely yourself. If you don't grade things on time, then be sure to give your students the same leeway as well.

Don't censor yourself too much. Most students actually like a teacher that swears a little every now and then. On the other hand, don't attempt slang unless you're totally comfortable with it.

Stand up for your students. If you see them being pushed around or bullied by other students or teachers, try to end the conflict, or at least tell the attacker to calm down.

Also, for male teachers: girls occasionally have something called a "period". It means they have to use the restroom more frequently, and females greatly appreciate the allowance of restroom use to "fix themselves up".

Once you've earned the respect of your students, be sure to keep it! Make jokes, fool around a bit when the time is right - try to keep it casual.

How to make your classes interesting

Whenever possible, give your students choices as to what they would like to do and how they want to do it. For example, after covering a section of work, ask them if they'd rather write a test, have a discussion or do a worksheet on it. You could even divide the class according to what they'd rather do, and let them do that. This also counts for projects and papers. Try to avoid giving the whole class the same topic, unless you have to. Even then try to give them as much leeway as possible.

Try to come up with other ways of presenting things instead of sticking to lesson plans or text books. If you just stand in the front and lecture the whole time, the chances of anyone paying attention are slim.

Also, don't be too eager to offer help to a student, but do make it clear that if they want help they should ask. Some kids like to figure things out for themselves, while others prefer to be told how to do it.

Don't place too much emphasis on keeping your class quiet. Some students will want to help each other or work together, this is a good thing. In fact, don't be the only one talking. Encourage discussion. Let your students interrupt you from time to time to discuss a point. Don't worry if you end up straying off the point a little, just try to keep track of where you were and don't let it go too far. Allow students to move around and sit next to a friend, as long as they do all their work and don't cause major disruptions.

Don't worry about drinks or food in class as long as the class stays clean. If someone makes a mess, they should clean it up themselves right then and there.

Some people work faster and better if there is music. Since not everyone has the same taste in music, allow your students to listen to whatever they like with headphones on, as long as it's not too loud.

Let students start their homework in your class. This way it becomes more like classwork, and whatever isn't finished by the end of class becomes homework. This way whoever works quickly in class doesn't get homework. The other benefit of this is that you are still there to help them, should they need something explained. I have heard so many complaints by kids who sat up all night trying to finish some math homework that they didn't understand how to do in the first place. Also, be lenient - ask your students if they've already received homework for other classes, and how much of it. If they already have a lot, don't give more. The best option would be to just never give any homework, unless the subject in question is something like math where practice is needed.

With regard to assignments, try to work out due dates with other teachers so that students don't get overworked with assignments on different subjects all at the same time.

Further reading: The Elements of a Good Teacher (forum discussion)

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QUOTES

Here are the exact words of the young people who contributed most of the ideas in this guide:

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Suggestion from: G
Teachers who personally ask students what they would like to do always get my respect. Also teachers who treat their students as peers, although it is usually not expected to do so.

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Suggestion from: Thomas Howard
Be nice, teachers have no idea how much of a difference it makes. I return niceness and politeness with the same. If they are rude or commanding, I return worse. Also, they think they have so much power, like they can command us to do anything. Not true, if teachers try to order me from the hallway I will just curse them out, and keep walking, if they lay one hand in me, they are in huge trouble. Of course this mostly applys to non classroom settings.

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Suggestion from: Caroline
comments: teachers need to be more understanding that us students go to (well i go to 6 a day)5-7 classes a day and if one teacher gives a ton of work, whose to say tthe other 5 won't?? Teachers need to spread out they're assignments and stuff and be more considerate when students approach them and say they have too much to do. and i don't know if you've ever taken an AP, but many AP teachers say that they can give a ton of work out because they're class in an AP, which is fine but my AP teacher gave my class a unit test the same day a 10 page research paper was due!!! (and not to mention i had 5 other classes of work to do too and by this point i do the bare bare minium..)

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Suggestion from: Emily Keller
I think that they should not take out their problems and anger on there students if they are having a "bad day". Alot of times when I go to school and a teacher is having a lousy day, they take it out on the students; causing us more pressure in school. Thanks!! Good Luck ;)

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Suggestion from: Amaka
I think that teachers should make an attempt to make it clear that they won't tolerate annoying disruptive behavior without being...well, bitchy about it. They should engage the class in fun projects that stick to the subject and remember about the project themselves. They should grade on time--personally, i think it's injust that im expected to turn papers in right on time, but can't expect it to be returned to me in a timely matter as well. Plus, the teacher should offer a lot of help, i have an algebra teacher who's about as helpful as poop, especially when i'm confused. And finally, teachers should never be hypocritical. Thanks for listening!

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Suggestion from: Jimmy
Think of your own creative way to teach, dont always go by lesson plans and/or text books...I'm 14 and this is my opinion.. No paper and pencil tests, for example on a book, make up some sort of activity to show comprehension of the book.

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Suggestion from: LAURA
i believe that if teachers want our respect their going to have to respect us first, and the most important thing is to make the class a place were a student would want to actually go,instead of having students skip your class b/c your not fair to them or its just BORING!...make learning enjoyable instead of standing there and talking for a hour str8 while the rest of the class is sleeping and writing notes to each other...if that is the case in the class i believe no one is actually learning...and no one will like you and everyone will pick on you and its important to communicate w. the students.

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Suggestion from: Anrchy4us
Teachers, rather than having the students repeat in some mindless manner everything they say, should encourage a higher level of learning. They should encourage students to search for their own answers and use critical thinking to answer their questions. Also, don't make school so automatonic. Students will learn much better in a more laid back enviroment in which they are free to discuss and encouraged to question. I have this problem in math. I understand all of these complex equations etc. and how to put numbers into them, but I want to know what they are used for. I want to really understand what I'm doing and/or working with. Also, I think that teachers, especially those "old school" ones, need to get a personality. I feel like I'm talking to a wall sometimes, just the wall responds once in a while. So basically, make the class more envigourating, something we won't fall asleep while trying to digest. Thanks.

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Suggestion from: JadedNaga
Abolish homework. (OMG, this would be a major plus.) What is part of school should be done at school. Period. Six-seven hours of school (especially without pay) is enough! Leave the personal lifestyles alone! We would be refreshed, mentally and phsyically healthier, happier, and more productive (school-wise and in other areas), more likely to pursue other goals, and just have more variety in our lifestyles in general. You've ruined us!

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Suggestion from: Jessica
textfield = Get rid of the Ms./Mrs./Mr.. They tell us that respect isn't something that should be handed out like candy, yet they expect us to respect them without even knowing them? Not only that, but it's condescending.

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Suggestion from: OptikalIlluzion

1) Stop treating us like we are slaves to your authority. Asserting authority, demanding respect, and forcing students into things they are unwilling to do is no way to earn respect from a student.

2) Respect our ideas and individuality. If you really want to know us, gain respect, and be approved of, you need to stop treating the classroom as a group. Learn each student's ideas and needs. I know that can be alot of work, as many teachers usually go through about 125 students by the end of the day. But if you can grade all that homework, know who the good kids/bad kids are, and be able to teach, you should be able to remember a few personal traits.

3) Stop acting like everything you teach will be "important" and that we "need to know it". We are on to you! Unless we are scientists, mathmeticians, or create complex formulas, we'll never really need to know what the "slope of y" equals. We won't need to know the parts and functions of cells. We'll only be using he knowledge needed for our professions, and the occasional trivia game.

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Suggestion from: Steve Otero
textfield = Find a balance between being in control and allowing for some humor. Dont let us walk over you, but dont walk over us. (we'll resent it!) After you've established respect, KEEP IT! JOke, laugh, and fool around in class when the time is right. (you'll be the only teacher who actually teaches the students in their classroom!)

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Suggestion from: Nicholas Lemay
I think that for teachers to earn a kids respect, they need to treat the kid like their not better than them and they need to give the kid some space enless the kid wants help.

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Suggestion from: Jordan
Give there students choices, such as:
A.Doing mathhomework but no test
B.Studying in class and a followup of a test
C.Oral Testing


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Suggestion from: Bob Saggit
They have to no what level the kids are coming from and relate to them in the way they would relate to others.

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Suggestion from: Josh Vest
The teachers should follow our freedom of speech rights and stop saying "stop talking when im talking", to raise your hand and "this is my classroom dont disrespect me".

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from: Holly
well, I'm only in Junior High but STAND UP FOR YOUR STUDENTS! When you see them being pushed around of being mistreated by other students or teachers, don't watch and mucnch popcorn. At least tell the attacker to chill.

Oh, and that reminds me. Teachers that try to be respected by being "hip": never say hip, never mind attempt to be hip. It's not hip to be hip. Don't attempt slang at all unless you feel 100% comfortable with it. Always... this also applies to students, and is a basic social rule.

Also, for male teachers: girls occasionally have something called a "period." It means they have to use the restfrrom more frequently, and females greatly appreciate the allowance of restroom use to *fix themselves up* or reapply concealer for any breakouts! Geez!

Yeah, this is a swell idea and my history teacher really needs to read something like this.

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Suggestion from: Liquid_Dreams

I agree...they should stand up for their students...but not in a way that may harm someones rep. I also think teachers should try to be more fair...they tend to favor and grant certain privilages to their favs.

Some more stuff:

I think when teachers have a friendly atmosphere in their classromm it is much better, such as:

Letting students sit by their friends as long as they don't cause major disruptions and do all their work etc.

Being allowed to eat and drink in the class as long as the room stays clean. I have found that since my math teacher let us do this I am more relaxed in her class and can do my work better.

Allowing students to listen to headphones during tests, quizs or work time as long as its not too loud. Some people can do their work better if they are able to listen to their music.

Cool seating charts. Asides from sitting by your friends, interesting seating placement can work very well.

BE LAX!!!! Don't freak out if a student says one curse word!!!! Be friendly towards your students, they will learn better if you act more like a educational mentor then a pissy teacher.

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Suggestion from: skewl MAJORLY sux

I notice that teachers who arent afraid to swear a little from time to time are much more respected then those tight-assed teachers who, at the word 'hell', or 'damn' or 'crap', get inspasticated (angry) and scream, yell and shout a lot.
teachers that just stand there next to the board and write crap on the subject for the rest of the lesson tend to be rated as extremely unpopular.

A great 'strategy' one teacher of mine uses, is extremely smart and fair. We always do some work every geography lesson. However, if we don't finish it on time, that work simply becomes our homework. So the people who worked well in class and finished their work (its never me ) don't get any homework . This is a simple yet effective method where none of the students complain (not even me).

I have also noticed that respected teachers are 'balanced', so if you want to be a respected teacher, you have to be tough, yet nice.

e.g. If a situation is getting out of hand, students tend to understand more if you shout at them a bit, when (if) they look afraid, make a joke about the matter that is appropriate, the student should automatically like you.

If you follow all the rules on 'How to be a good teacher' correctly, you will be loved by all of your students. You will also notice better results in their behaviours. Why? Because it will hurt them to let you down because of their respect for you. They will become more attached to you and the same will go for you. Every teacher's dream should be to get to know their students individually and be part of their future, to take part in their future, to be their friend, not worst enemy, to be a role-model to them not someone on who they look upon and think "Jeez, im never going to be like her/him" or "Now I know why teachers get payed so little" and "Man, I know exactly why I don't want to become a teacher".

To make sure that they don't turn out that way, you need to,
- participate,
- be open minded
- and last - but not least and most important: - like them.
If you are successful, they will do the same for you.

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Suggestion from: Josef Eder
"The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect. Men may hate us. But, we don't ask for their love; only for their fear." - Heinrich Himmler

Related Stuff:
Discuss this in the forums.
How many teachers would set you free if they could?
Teen Rebellion is not just a phase
Respect
How to be a good teacher
Why Education is Broken, by Isamu Fukui
Public school is like prison, or a cult
Accepting that you are inferior
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