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TEACHING: The qualities of an exceptional instructor

By Aurora Joslyn

Teaching is hard work, and some teachers never grow to be anything better than mediocre. They do the bare minimum required and very little more. Exceptional educators, however, work tirelessly to create a challenging, nurturing environment for their students. Experience has taught me that great teaching seems to have less to do with our knowledge and skills than with our attitude toward our students, our subject, and our work. So what makes a teacher exceptional? Let’s examine the characteristics of an outstanding teacher.

Respect: A great teacher respects students and sets high expectations for all. In a great teacher’s classroom, each person’s ideas and opinions are valued. Students feel safe to express their feelings and learn to respect and listen to others. This teacher creates a welcoming learning environment for all students. Effective teachers focus on shared decision-making and teamwork as well as on community building. A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas — from personal appearance to organizational skills and preparedness for each day. Their communication skills are exemplary, whether they are speaking with an administrator, one of their students, or a colleague. The respect that the great teacher receives because of her professional manner is obvious to those around her.

Compassion. A great teacher must care. A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic, and caring. This person is approachable, not only to students, but to everyone on campus. This is the teacher to whom students know they can go with any problems or concerns or even to share a funny story. Great teachers possess good listening skills and take time out of their way-too-busy schedules for anyone who needs them. If this teacher is having a bad day, no one ever knows — the teacher leaves personal baggage outside the school doors.

Patience. Exceptional teachers know when to stand back and allow students the time and freedom to figure something out on their own. Because it means loosening control and letting the students lead, this can be one of the most difficult plateaus for a teacher to reach. Many take years to get there. Some never do.

Flexibility. A great teacher can shift gears and is flexible when a lesson isn’t working. This teacher assesses their teaching throughout the lessons and finds new ways to present material to make sure that every student understands the key concepts. Demonstrating the flexibility to experiment with new teaching methods is integral to providing students with a well-rounded education in the 21st century.

Inspiration. A great teacher has their own love of learning and inspires students with their passion for education and for the course material. They constantly renew themselves as professionals on their quest to provide students with the highest quality of education possible. This teacher has no fear of learning new teaching strategies or incorporating new technologies into lessons, and always seems to be the one who is willing to share what they’ve learned with colleagues.

While teaching is a gift that seems to come quite naturally for some, others have to work overtime to achieve great teacher status. With the right combination of respect, compassion, patience, flexibility, and inspiration, an exceptional teacher can make a lasting impact on a student’s education. And the payoff is enormous — for both the teacher and the students.

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

Henry B. Adams.

Aurora Joslyn is an NCRA associate member from Hollywood, Fla.  This article was written as part of the requirements for NCRA’s Certified Reporting Instructor course.