Top 12 Traits of Good Teachers


Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

Teachers. They can push you to the edge, back you up, constructively critique your work, and–as the title implies–teach you things. So for no reason whatsoever, I took a look back on all the teachers I had and found twelve traits that most–or all–of the ones I loved had in common. And I’m going to share all of them with you today. So, in no particular order, here’s the top 12 traits shared by good teachers (from the perspective of a former student).

#1: Stamina

It takes a lot of steel and perseverance to stay in a room full of kids for eight hours, go home, and spend time grading papers without screaming into a pillow. So the fact that there are people out there who can do that is evidence that there is hope for humanity.

#2: Honesty

We learn more when people tell us what we need to hear as opposed to what we want to hear. One of my favorite classes in college was a Creative Writing (fiction) class. We had to write three short stories and take on smaller assignments that tested our ability to establish settings, describe characters, and create dialogue. When we handed them in, the professor asked the students to share both their likes and their dislikes about the piece in question. He had us focus more on what could be better as opposed to what worked. This way, we could take in the criticism, learn from it, and make our work better. This leads me to my next point:

#3: They take everything that happens and turn it into a learning experience

So…yeah, that story I used for the 2nd point summarizes this one. Most of the stuff I turned in was some of the worst things I’d ever written, and the critiques taught me a lot about how I could improve. And…that’s it. I’ve got nothing else. Next point.

#4: Trustworthiness

Good teachers want their students to succeed. They want kids to grow into strong, independent adults capable of achieving greatness. They never give you more than you can handle, yet challenge you to learn and grow. Sometimes, the process of growing up involves having someone to talk to and ask questions without fear of judgment or the listening ear sharing your secrets with the public. And sometimes, that listening ear is a good teacher.

#5: They let you come to them

While it’s true that good teachers listen, it’s also true that they don’t force students to open up to them. If they notice something’s wrong, they might ask if there’s anything they can do to help. However, they also know they don’t need to be involved if you don’t want them to.

#6: Unique Teaching Methods

What makes us remember some teachers was their methods. In high school, the psychology teacher arranged the desks in a circle to make his class a discussion rather than a lecture. My favorite final exam was for a Children’s literature class, where I had to write a scenario where I’m in a café having a conversation with six of the authors we studied. Then there was an English class where we had to read what we wrote in front of the class and the class would critique our public speaking skills–which, coincidentally, taught me more about public speaking than the ACTUAL public speaking class I took in high school.

#7: Passion

Not only are the best teachers passionate about what they do, but they’re also passionate about the subject they teach. If teachers don’t care about their subject, why should students? If teachers can show why they love science or history or music, then their students can catch on.

#8: They Challenge You

One reason why good teachers are like second parents is because they care about you and want you to succeed. Sometimes, enabling success means listening to your thoughts and making sure what you’re planning to do is in your best interest. When you’re growing up and getting to the point where you’re thinking about what you want to do with your life, all it takes is a voice of reason from someone you trust to stay on track.

#9: You Can Ask Hard Questions

You can ask them almost anything you want to know, and they’ll answer. They recognize that a good education goes a long way for people, and by answering hard questions they can help you understand the world a little more than you did before.

#10: They Inspire and Encourage

One of my favorite teachers from high school is the religion teacher I had during my freshman year. At the end of the semester, we had to write an essay and prepare a speech based on what we wrote. When it was my turn, my speech was…awful, to say the least. However, when she graded my essay and handed it back to me, she commented that she liked my writing style and gave me an A. Those comments are what made me take an interest in writing, and played a vital role in making me who I am today.

#11: They’ve Seen You at Your Worst, and They Still Believe in You

When I think of strong fictional teachers, something that comes to mind is the student-teacher relationship between Professor McGonagall and Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter. Fans of the series know that McGonagall is hard to impress, and Neville’s main problem was his lack of confidence. Even in the fourth book, McGonagall practically begged him to hide his inadequacy while Hogwarts prepared to welcome guests. But then we get the moment in the sixth book, where McGonagall is helping Neville set up his class schedule. She gives him a rare compliment on what he did in the previous book, and we know she doesn’t say anything she doesn’t mean.

#12: They Let You Draw Your Own Conclusions

One thing I noticed about teachers I didn’t enjoy having was that they wanted you to think a certain way, end of story, no questions asked. If you disagreed or suggested a different theory, they shot you down immediately. Good teachers recognize that, like DNA, no two sets of opinions are alike. And keeping an open mind can introduce something new that you hadn’t considered before. True, it’s important to stand up for something you believe in. And true, some facts (like 2+2=4, most plants get energy from sunlight, Donald Trump pisses people off) can’t be disputed. But on occasion, we need to be open to hearing something new and letting people draw their own conclusions.

Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”

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