Search form

What do great teachers do differently?

Education World is pleased to present this article contributed by Shannon Dauphin Lee, a contributor who has been writing professionally for almost two decades on topics including education and relationships.

If you were asked to name the teacher who made a significant difference in your life, chances are you could immediately come up with a name—and if you were very lucky during your school years, you could come up with more than one.

What was it that made those teachers stand out? Was it something they did, perhaps a way of teaching that was unique and engaging? Was it something they said, maybe something that struck a chord? Or was it simply that they paid attention in a way that other teachers didn’t?

Teachers who changed lives

For Margaret Miller, a writer and editor at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, it was all of those things that endeared teacher Annie Dillard. “Annie Dillard was my writing instructor at Hollins College the year she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It was the first workshop she ever taught, and although she had never taken education classes or become ‘certified,’ having been taught by excellent teachers herself, she knew instinctively what to do: Demand commitment. Convey passion. Encourage revision. Praise improvement.”

That one class changed the course of Miller’s life. “Engaged by Annie’s complete devotion to writing and her belief in me, I changed my major from music to English, went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts and became a teacher and professional writer myself.”

Juan Maria Solare, a renowned Argentine composer and pianist living in Germany, was also lucky to have had an exceptional teacher. “The best composition teacher I ever had was Mauricio Kagel, because he asked me what I wanted to compose, instead of saying ‘do this’ and ‘do that.’ So I was forced to introspection, to discover in myself what I wanted to do—and not just ‘follow the rules.’ And after discovering what I wanted to do, he pushed me in that direction.”

These teachers are just a few of the many who have made a difference. By embracing the educational experience in a unique and passionate way, these educators offered students much more than a curriculum. They became involved in their lives, helped them chart their dreams and then gave them the skills and confidence they needed to reach them.

How every teacher can change lives

When aspiring teachers are asked why they want to teach, the most common answer is that they want to make a difference in the lives of students, according to an essay on the five attitudes of effective teachers. These attitudes include:

  • Genuine caring and kindness;
  • A willingness to share with students the responsibility involved in the classroom;
  • Sincere sensitivity to students’ diversity and the ability to make each child feel special;
  • The motivation to provide meaningful learning opportunities for students; and
  • An enthusiasm for stimulating students’ creativity and considering students’ suggestions and interests.

So why do some teachers fade into the background while others stand out as game-changers year after year?

In order to make a change for students, educators first must get their attention. In order to do that, a good teacher takes control of the classroom from the very first day, say Harry and Rosemary Wong in their book The First Days of School.

Teachers must be prepared for class in every way, ready to communicate effectively with their students and filled with the belief that those under their charge really can succeed.

Here are additional strategies that can help teachers get to the heart of a classroom:

  1. Be fully prepared.  Prepare the curriculum well in advance and fully expect students to do their part with homework, reading assignments and more. Set rules from the start and enforce them without exception. These “ground rules” can pave the way for an environment focused on learning.
  2. Find a unique delivery method.  Students need more than a lecture and a homework assignment. Find a passionate way to deliver the material, go beyond what they can ready in the textbook and remember that enthusiasm is contagious.
  3. Take assessment beyond the norm.  Students are graded on tests, homework and projects, but your assessment should go beyond that. Do students have a full grasp of the material? Do they understand how it relates to their life and learning? Form your own assessments and use those to teach the subject matter more effectively.

Finally, it is vitally important to foster strong relationships with the students in your classroom. If students believe you think of them when they walk out of the classroom, that you care about their life beyond the grades, and that you have full confidence in them to achieve their goals, they are much more likely to respond to that care with more effort of their own.

Every student can make a contribution to the world. Great teachers—the ones who care, who push, who settle for nothing less than both excellence and happiness for their students—prepare the launching pad for success.

Education World®                      
Copyright © 2013, 2015 Education World