George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to Be a Great Teacher

The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to Be a Great Teacher

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Heart made with hands

What does it mean to be a great teacher? Of course credentials, knowledge, critical thinking, and all other faculties of intelligence are important. However, a great teacher should be much more than credentials, experience and intelligence.

What lies in the heart of a great teacher?

You are kind: a great teacher shows kindness to students, colleagues, parents and those around her/him. My favourite saying is “kindness makes the world go around”. It truly changes the environment in the classroom and school. Being a kind teacher helps students feel welcomed, cared for and loved.

You are compassionate: Teaching is a very humanistic profession, and compassion is the utmost feeling of understanding, and showing others you are concerned about them. A compassionate teacher models that characteristic to the students with her/his actions, and as a result students will be more open to understanding the world around them.

You are empathetic: Empathy is such an important trait to have and to try to develop in ourselves and our students. Being able to put yourself in someone’s shoes and see things from their perspective can have such a powerful impact on our decisions and actions.

You are positive: Being a positive person, is not an easy task. Being a positive teacher is even harder when we’re always met with problems with very limited solutions. However, staying positive when it’s tough can have such a tremendous positive impact on the students and everyone around us. Looking on the bright side always seems to help make things better.

You are a builder: A great teacher bridges gaps and builds relationships, friendships, and a community. Teachers always look to make things better and improve things in and outside of the classroom. Building a community is something a great teacher seeks to do in the classroom and extends that to the entire school and its community.

You inspire: Everyone looks at a great teacher and they want to be a better teacher, they want to be a better student, even better, they want to be a better person. A great teacher uncovers hidden treasures, possibilities and magic right before everyone’s eyes.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Diana Ramirez's picture

I learned not too long ago that a great someone or something is a combination of many values rather than just one. So reading about what makes a great teacher has truly inspired me. The combination of kindness, compassion, and optimism can truly make a difference in a student's life. Currently, I am a college student studying to someday become a teacher and improve science and math education for students. I will try to practice these qualities as a teacher and a person as well as encourage group work among students. I would have the students that get the higher grades help out those struggling and have the students struggling earn a growth mindset to learn and progress from their challenges.

Sam2Anderson's picture

Very positive attitude to teaching brings us to believe that teaching is like flying among butterflies, but it's not.

you should stay calm outside even when these imps do not wish to learn. So in addition to all features of a great teacher, I'd say about patience. Strong will and a patience help to stay perfect (and sane))

ekatebini's picture
I am excited about research in education!

I see all of these fade the less sleep I have. I think balance is important too. When you put your mind to rest and get some sleep, sometimes it is the better decision then being awake and working on differentiating that one last portion of your lesson.

ekatebini's picture
I am excited about research in education!

"one size fits all and no excuses public schools."

I know. I think about this all the time. I started my first year in such a school. I knew it did not align with my beliefs (and the research) in teaching. It is very tough to follow what you believe is correct for children in this environment. However, the experienced teachers who figure out the balance to teach with best practices despite the administrative environment of fear are truly outstanding!

Ann Duckworth's picture
Ann Duckworth
I am a teacher who loves to help students continually improve their lives

Yes, what is best is sometimes at odds with even the research. You see the dogma of the genetics models have even crept into the research where the researchers are so looking into brain research and ways to use assumed developmental features and abilities, they are completely overlooking many environmental variables which could be used as wonderful tools to continually improve thinking, learning, motivation, and mental health.
When we redefine our average stress more correctly as many "maintained layers of mental work" from many past, present, future - experiences, fears, anxieties, circumstances, along with (many faulty) weights and values we carry with us and can act as magnets for other accumulating layers we can then see just how our individual environments, not genetics greatly affect our thinking, learning, motivation (mental reward received for mental work expended), and our mental health. Try to visualize an upright rectangle showing our full mental energy. Then begin from the bottom, drawing in many (not able to draw in all) layers of mental work our minds maintain as unresolved layers from many past, present, future areas of our life. Stop about halfway. The space leftover would show our leftover mental energy for thinking, learning, and dealing with newer situations. The length of that space shows our length of reflection time or time to consider more complex thought, plans, or work in in longer-term ways. This will be very different for each child and adult given our very very different individual environments over time. So each child is working with very different maintained layers of mental work from their individual environments. The genetics models used in our schools today do not allow for this wonderful variable to be used as a wonderful cognitive tool to help students and adults more permanently reduce many "non-essential layers of mental work and to over time, work to change "as the students themselves perceive" some accumulated faulty weight or value which may hurt also by adding some extra layers of mental work to their average. Having lived in both a housing project and with the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, and engineers, I have seen first hand how our individual environments and "not genetics" are greatly affecting our thinking, learning, motivation, and mental health. The kids were the same but affected very differently by those environments. We cannot provide a stable/knowledge-rich environment for all students, but- we can show students how our individual environments and not genetics greatly affect their thinking, learning, motivation, and mental health. We can free them from the terrible myth of genetic permanence in ability we are currently teaching in our schools and begin providing tools to continually improve. This will provide much more hope for our students and adults. This will reduce many harmful escapes such as stagnant students, dropouts, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicide currently created by our teaching permanence in ability in school. This will provide much needed esteem for all students by releasing them from that awful weight of feeling somehow permanently inferior. A second variable is the myth of simply more effort in school. As our pace and intensity in approaching a mental work exceeds our immediate knowledge, experience, and mental frames for an area we create much greater mental friction or intensify our already higher layers of mental work or average stress. This is very important for students from lower socioeconomic areas where average stress tends to corrupt the proper dynamics of approaching newer mental work and hurt further their thinking, learning, and motivation. If the child, usually a boy, is told to work hard, they will invariably try too hard and hurt further their thinking, learning, and motivation to learn. We need to teach all students the proper dynamics of approaching newer mental work more correctly at first. As their mental frames grow in that area, their pace and intensity will also grow and - with better motivation as those mental frames will then allow for more knowledge and skills to be added to those mental frames over time with equal or greater motivation. Such tools as these along with understanding fatigue limits, frustration tolerances, attention spans, and differences in accumulated communication skills given differential environments will help teachers much in becoming great teachers. Theory will go to all on request.

Nilda Ruiz's picture

I always thoughts that a great teacher was one that could perfectly explain the subject he or she is teaching to the students. Most teachers that I characterized as "great" were teachers that I thought did so well in explaining, let's say, a math problem from Pre-Calculus, and so I received good grades in their classes. I did not quite realize that great teachers do not have to be just teachers that do well in teaching their subject. Compassionate, determined, supportive etc. teachers are just as great. Some students may have majored in a certain subject in college because their teacher encouraged and supported them to the point they began to enjoy a particular subject. Now a days, I like to think that a great teacher is one that inspires, not just teaches.

John Markley's picture

I am pleased to be in a profession that put these attributes at a premium and are indicators of success and effectiveness. I worry though, that these wonderful qualities become expectations. We are not perfect, we are flawed and I know this because I am and we know this because we work in schools. Please, always strive to display these qualities of a great teacher, but do not put pressure on yourself to live to a standard that is not attainable. You are great.

mrscrdz's picture

I unknowingly practiced these behaviors long before I made the decision of becoming a teacher. It was no surprise that this is what I was meant to do. The first semester of my college career I was overwhelmed with the amount of work one must put in. But for the first time I was not discouraged, but took it as a challenge. And more and more after that I continued to research all the resources I will have to becomes a successful teacher.

These are some of the qualities that some of my most memorable teachers had. And some even loved to learn from us as well. Which I think is important for all teachers to always learn from their students as well.

jazzyjojomecom - 438206's picture

Although I'm a Teacher's Aide, I always like to introduce the students to something new and exciting ,which ties into whatever lesson the teacher has prepared. Some times,it's an extra -curricular Art activity, or a new set of building blocks to incorporate into Math activities, or a new IPad App,or even something fun to let them experience the feel of different textures for science. I've always aimed to be the Best Paraprofessional our school district has to offer,and in my opinion,that doesn't happen by just doing what's average and acceptable. I always aim for the Wow factors of teaching and learning,especially in grades K through 3.

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