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Admirable Teaching Traits


Curriculum Center

Almost every educator would agree that teacher quality is the most important factor in determining school quality. But what factors determine teacher quality? In this article from Teaching for Excellence, you'll discover the traits administrators look for in their teachers. Included: Fifteen key characteristics of effective teachers.


Educational administrators who hire teachers have an extremely important job. They have the responsibility of placing a qualified professional into each and every classroom. There are many factors important for school effectiveness, but the most important is teacher quality. Principals and personnel directors may differ somewhat in their priorities for teacher selection, but, for the most part, they all agree on the basic characteristics for effective teachers.

Below are the characteristics that educational administrators would like to see in their teachers -- qualities that benefit students, improve instruction, and help an organization to run much more smoothly. Examine these to see which ones you exhibit well and which ones you need to develop.


What Is Teaching for Excellence?

Teaching for Excellence is a monthly newsletter designed to provide schools with a convenient and inexpensive method of staff development. Each issue focuses on a specific, relevant education topic and attempts to "bridge the gap between research and practice" by offering clear information and practical ideas about that topic. According to Robert E. Glenn and R. Ladson Berry, founders of Teaching for Excellence, "Our goal is to help teachers be successful in the classroom."

  • Exhibit enthusiasm: If you are enthusiastic about teaching, show it! Make learning fun. Your eagerness for teaching will make a difference in the motivation of your students. Beyond the classroom, it helps build a sense of teamwork. Enthusiasm is contagious.
  • Know your content: Keep up with your field of expertise. If you teach kindergarten, subscribe to an early childhood journal. If you teach chemistry, attend the seminar at the local college. No matter if this is your first year or your thirtieth, keep up with changing trends in your field of expertise.
  • Be organized: Efficient organization allows you to spend more learning time with students. Have a way of handling routines -- collecting student work, handing out materials, posting assignments, what to do when finished with an assignment, communicating class news, etc. Established routines keep the class on track and give you more time for teaching and engaging students.
  • Teach actively: Principals, like other supervisors and managers of people, appreciate those who work hard. Effective teachers are involved, they move around, they don 't stand around, but are busy. They are actively involved with students and with other staff.
  • Show a good attitude: The French philosopher, Voltaire, said, "the most courageous decision one makes each day is the decision to be in a good mood. "Children don 't need teachers who stay in a foul mood. They need models with positive attitudes. Listen to what you say to others and to your tone of voice. You should be displaying care, concern, and respect. Likewise, administrators need to reflect good attitudes for teachers, students, and the community.
  • Establish successful classroom management: Establish and enforce your classroom management system from the first day of class. Discipline and reasonable structure are essential for students to be on task and to have an orderly class environment. Be consistent and fair. Avoid making rules that you do not enforce consistently, for students soon learn that what you say does not matter.
  • Pace instruction: The amount learned is related to the opportunity to learn. Students learn the most by doing, not by watching, not by standing in line, and not by listening. Plan an instructional time line for your courses. Nothing is worse than approaching the end of the school year and realizing there is not enough time to finish all that is in the course of study.
  • Maintain good people skills: On a primary report card, this trait is referred to as "works well with others." Administrators need teachers who work well with other people. If people don't like your behavior as a teacher, they will not want to be around you, much less perform for you! This is true for colleagues and parents as well as for students. Education is a people business. Good human relations skills are imperative for successful teachers!
  • Communicate clearly: Effective teachers give information clearly. Be concise. Demonstrate as well as explain. When presenting new information teachers must give accurate directions. This process includes explaining, outlining, summarizing, and reviewing. Too often children have no idea what they are learning or why they are learning it.
  • Question effectively:Questioning is a powerful teaching tool. It is through questioning that productive thinking occurs. Ask questions directed to the whole class as well as to individuals. When directing a question to individual students, ask the question first before calling student names. Give wait time for students to think through their responses. Do not call on names too soon. An example of a less effective method: "Nancy, what do you think was Edison's most useful invention and why?" What happens? When someone 's name is mentioned, others relax and are not involved. But the teacher could say, "What was Edison 's most useful invention and why?" and pause for about 3 to 5 seconds. This wait time keeps everyone involved and gives students a chance to think. It seems like a long time to wait, but the method is used efficiently by many successful teachers.
  • Differentiate instruction: One of the biggest challenges to teaching is working with students of varying learning styles, personalities, and rates of learning. Teachers need to mix auditory, visual, and hands-on techniques. For specific lessons, subgroup students with similar weaknesses or skill gaps.
  • Build success into your class: Success rate is important. If work is continuously too hard for a student, he/she can become frustrated, resulting in behavior problems and loss of effort. Research indicates that a success rate of at least eighty percent is optimal. When students are not successful, provide further instruction and/or simplify the task until they can master the task.
  • Hold high expectations: Principals want teachers who expect their students to learn. High expectations need to be communicated for good performance. Successful teachers don't just accept participation but they require it. One can be demanding without being unpleasant or mean. In fact, students respect teachers who expect them to do their best.
  • Create a pleasant atmosphere: Don't allow your classroom to send out the aura of the haunted house on the hill. Dismal, drab, and dreary will decrease the percentage of learning. Cheerful and happy classrooms will stimulate learning. Teachers don't have to create magic kingdoms to promote learning, but a pleasant room where students feel comfortable is a must for turning up the academic burner.
  • Be flexible: So much of teaching requires flexibility. Can you adjust when timely topics come up instead of staying with your lesson plan? Are you sensitive enough to student needs that you can vary from your routines and rules when necessary to help a child? Do you stay in control of your emotions and positive when your best-made plans have to be altered due to circumstances beyond your control? As a recent saying goes, "The flexible shall not be bent out of shape."


Good educational administrators want to insure the academic success of all children. To ensure effective schools, they have a responsibility to develop teachers with the qualities that provide sound instruction. Education is not an exact science and the qualities that are needed in teaching personnel will vary somewhat depending on different objectives and needs of schools. However the characteristics that are listed above will generally be the ones that conscientious administrators will be seeking when looking for new teachers and the ones that they will be trying to develop and improve in the veteran teaching force. Take a good look at these fifteen admirable traits. Which ones have you mastered? On which ones do you fall short? What do you need to do to improve? Prioritize and take the next step for becoming more effective in a profession that depends on you.

This article has been reprinted with the permission of Teaching for Excellence.

About the Author

Robert E. Glenn, the founder and publisher of Teaching for Excellence, is the principal of Clifdale Elementary School in Spartanburg, South Carolina.