What makes an ideal teacher?

What makes an ideal teacher?

by Anna Pelevina

A dozen important characteristics and qualities of a good teacher.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”– Mark Twain

There is, it is true, a difference between a teacher, a good teacher, and an ideal teacher. Knowing what the difference is can be difficult to explain, either from first principles or from the perspective of our students.

The field of education is suffering from a shortage of teachers and there is always a great need for good teachers. The task of the parent is to find for their child an ideal teacher. They seek a guide to the world of knowledge, and many parents approach the task with great energy and high expectations. However, all students are unique: they have their own tastes, preferences, points of views, and inclinations. Not every teacher is right for every student. Teachers must consider their students’ individual worldviews, even though they are considerably different from their own and from each other’s.

Conversely, everyone, I am sure, has at least one teacher who they will never forget. Teachers have the incredible power to change lives and truly impact their students. A good teacher is someone who a student will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives. Resourceful and creative teachers are unforgettable—and so are their lessons.

I have long been curious to know what separates good - or ideal - teachers from the crowd. My curiosity led me first to reading articles about how to become a better teacher, but more recently I have adopted an active approach. I surveyed my teacher colleagues, my students, and the parents of my students, to see what their answers are to the question, “What is a good teacher for you?” Some of their answers were unexpected. Below, I present some of the key points to have emerged from the survey.

  1. Good teachers start with a solid education and a desire to improve their skills and talents. So, each teacher should try to become better than they were before. Learning is light and ignorance is darkness is a very wise proverb. Learning gives us knowledge that opens up new opportunities and bright paths. A teacher who has recent experience of learning will bring a wider range of methodologies into their classroom - and will also be more sensitive to the needs of their own learners, as they will feel a greater kinship with them.
  2. Positive teachers have a better chance to motivate and encourage their students to study. Upbeat people establish rapport more readily than negative people do, so students will remember teachers who make them smile. A sense of humour is a great tool. It can solve a lot of problems, from unexpected technical issues to bullying and conflicts between students.
  3. Teachers should listen more than they talk. One respondent said that there was a reason that we were given two ears and only one mouth. Teachers should be attentive whenever they listen, always trying to read between the lines and assess body language when their students are communicating, so that teachers demonstrate to their students that their thoughts and experiences matter.
  4. Teachers should be punctual. Punctuality teaches students the value of their time and the value of other people’s time. It can teach them to be organised and it can help students during their studies or their future careers. All in all, punctuality is a great habit which helps people to achieve their goals in life.
  5. Teachers should have a lesson plan and a lot of extra activities. Of course, it is important to be prepared for a wide range of scenarios and challenges in the classroom. However, according to some of the survey responses, it is also very important for students when they realise that the teacher has prepared for their class. It means that the teacher respects them.
  6. Teachers should be interested in their field. Everyone tells you that if you find a job doing what you really love, you will never work a day in your life. While I’m sure that this line will have many teachers chuckling, there is an undeniable reason that many of us became teachers, and have stuck with it for so long. Teachers should love what they do and motivate their students to have the same feeling.
  7. A related point is that students are always attracted by the creative approach of the teachers, their interest in the work, and the desire to bring something new to the audience. When teachers make lessons interesting and memorable, students become more engaged and eager to learn.
  8. Teachers need strong collaborative skills to ensure they can work well with other people in a consistent manner. Education is an intensely collaborative field by nature, involving a constant interplay between students, teachers, managers, administrators, and family members.
  9. Teachers need to build a good relationship with parents because they also play one of the main roles in their children’s education. One of the outcomes of the survey is the idea that family members can help teachers to become better teachers. I think that it is better to speak to parents face-to-face if teachers have some problems or misunderstanding with their learners, and likewise for teachers to ask parents not to judge or criticize them in the presence of their children. This is something that should be introduced across the school - when parents wish to discuss a matter with the teacher, there should be an appropriate place for that discussion. The corridor outside the classroom, with the door open and the students listening in, is not that place. This could lead to a loss of respect from students, which can create chaos in the classroom. Teachers must of course earn the respect of stakeholders - be they students or parents - but that respect must work both ways, with students respecting their teachers, and parents understanding that the teacher is not their teacher but their child’s teacher, and this difference is rather critical.
  10. The environment also plays an important role in the teacher’s development. Managers and administrators should help teachers by giving them more opportunities to work – by improving salaries and working conditions. Teachers should work together, share, help, evaluate, reflect on, and support each other and each other’s work. All these activities can help teachers become ideal teachers, but only if the environment allows it - a teacher overloaded with teaching will not have the time for any of these actions, and it falls to the school to provide the right conditions for development and growth.
  11. Teachers should believe in their students. Many students do not believe in themselves, or they do not think that any adult (teacher, family member) actually believes in them. And students who do not believe in themselves tend to have more behavioural and academic problems. That is why teachers should help them to believe that they can achieve success, and adopting approaches like careful scaffolding and focusing on student achievement can make a huge difference.
  12. The last but not least point is that teachers should be sincere and fair. According to the feedback of the students in the survey, formalism and apathy kill the spirit of communication, but empathy helps teachers to understand what the other person is feeling, and to adapt their own behaviour or conduct in a way that makes life better for both the student and the teacher.

Besides these common points, others were raised that were certainly unexpected - but are certainly worth reflecting on all the same. Some interviewees said that the teacher’s appearance plays an important role for them, or the timbre of the teacher’s voice is important for the perception of information. Some respondents supposed that the teacher should share interests in common with their students, and should have a lot of patience. While there is no doubt about the latter point, the former is more contestable - as teachers get older there seems to be less value in sharing interests with the younger generation: do teenagers want their fifty-year-old teacher to follow them on TikTok? That said, having at least a superficial awareness of the broader interests of our student body will help teachers to personalise their lessons and make the time they spend with their students more enjoyable for everyone.

I am pleased with what the survey has demonstrated, which is that teachers have a lot of opportunities and chances to become good teachers. The survey also marked the existence of obstacles to development, such as being burdened with too many duties and responsibilities, and that without the support and help of administrators, parents, and even students, they cannot reach their goal, or reaching it can be much more difficult. So, let’s do it together! Teachers shouldn’t forget that they are role models for their students and the key to success is consistency. Becoming an ideal teacher is possible for all of us, but it happens little by little, step by step, and it does not happen without the help of those around us.

Author Biography

My name is Anna Pelevina. I live in Riga, Latvia. I have been involved in English language teaching for over twelve years. I have worked for IH Riga-Satva since 2016. I have always enjoyed working with young and very young learners most of all. I am interested in the application of technology to teaching foreign languages. As well as teaching and experimenting, I enjoy making learning materials, singing and reading classic books with my students.