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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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.

jk100's picture

I enjoyed reading this article. All of these attributes are so vital to being a successful teacher. I believe that compassion and empathy are some of the most important qualities that a teacher can possess. This is because teaching requires an understanding of so many different kinds of students from different backgrounds. You must possess the grace and ability to handle different types of students and to do so with the patience and trust that they need. I loved the teacher as a builder idea as well. Teachers really do help build the foundation of communities and bridge gaps where needed. Great post.

snowflake2017's picture

This article provides keen insight into what makes a great teacher, showing there's more to it than simply having the credentials and subject knowledge. One of the key factors highlighted in the article is a positive behavior and attitude, and I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. An excellent teacher must be able to inspire students with their positive qualities, and help them discover their passion for a subject and for learning itself. Teachers must always maintain an atmosphere of kindness, and there is no better way than for them to be a symbol of that kindness themselves. I enjoyed the farmer metaphor used for teachers, and agree that students need to be nourished in order to ensure they're well equipped and prepared for their adult lives. The honor and pleasure of being a teacher comes from being given the opportunity to see your students grow and mature under your guidance.

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

guys, we desperately need to "begin looking beyond those wonderful , yet very short-term things. We need to begin seeing with much more insight, not just the complexity of many environmental variables, which are affecting teaching, learning, and motivation, but also yes, the many wonderful tools we can all develop to both continually improve our teaching skills for better learning and motivation along with, providing many wonderful tools we can "then provide our students" to help them continually improve their lives both inside and outside of the classroom. We first need to see how our present genetics and effort models are "not providing tools for students" but instead, are creating much more stagnancy both for teachers and the students being taught. To help provide the impetus for moving away from our current genetics models we should take notice that those models are creating stagnant students as early as elementary school and also dropouts, drug/alcohol abuse, and suicide in middle and high school due to the hopelessness those teachings are creating for students. If we truly want to be professional, we need to begin understanding "more about improving student learning and motivation to learn". This will require some courage as our current genetic models are so profoundly accepted as dogma in our schools today by teachers, administrators, parents, and even the students themselves. What we are seeing today appears to have wonderful presentations but in reality, simply a glossed over version of education with no real hope being offered our students. I say this is not professional, but gross stagnation of teaching. We can do more to continually improve our teaching and student learning by looking at and using more complex, yet much better environmental variables/tools and other cognitive concepts which will improve student esteem, hope, and motivation to learn even after they have left our classroom.

Judy Yero's picture
Judy Yero
Author of Teaching In MInd: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education

Many of the comments are still about what teachers can do "to" learners. The belief that only adults know what children need to "know and be able to do" is invalid. More and more teachers are recognizing that allowing teachers to direct their own learning--through projects, 20% time, and a plethora of other learner-centered approaches--is much more effective than any of the tools and methodologies that are the latest and greatest "answer" to education. One size does not, nor ever has, fit all...and as long as teachers continue to cave in to the educational malpractice foisted on public education by people who know nothing about learning and teaching, it will be impossible to be the kind of teacher we all want to be.

The key to effective teaching/learning is the relationship between and among the adults and younger learners...and trust that, given more responsibility for their own learning, children will learn what is appropriate for them in the way that is most appropriate for their developmental readiness, strengths, and interests. In a 9,000 mile trip around the U.S. visiting "learner-centered" schools, these are the factors that stood out in the most effective schools (and by effective, I'm talking about much more meaningful measures than test scores.) When children rush into a school building at 7:30 in the morning...and linger when the day ends at 4:30, you know that something wonderful must be happening in that school. These are some of the reasons.

KrispyCreme14's picture

This was an enlightening article. The credentials will get you the job, but I believe these traits will help you to maintain. As a future educator, I hope to bring these attributes to the classroom. These traits seems to be so simple, yet so meaningful. A great teacher may not have all of these attributes, but he/she will posses most of them. Teachers have to deal with so many personalities, and I agree that staying positive when it's tough can have such a positive impact on the students and everyone around them.

Verlander's picture

Teaching in elementary, I noticed that coming very close to the #1 thing I could offer my class this last year was listening and talking to them about what went on in their lives. 4th graders really want to share a lot. I did a lot of this during early morning work. Sometimes it took more time than my principal might of wanted, but it was worth it for the students, and would result in a quieter rest of the day.

Teaching Tiny Humans's picture

I agree with your forum, as a teacher there are many things we need to incorporate in our classroom every day. We need to remember that our students come from different background and they need not only a great teacher, but a teacher that reflects all the different aspects of the great teacher. Currently teaching in a Title 1 school one of the challenges I notice my students go through every day is staying positive. Showing my students that I am a positive teacher has shown them the different way to stay positive during the school day.

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