Teachers carry a tremendous responsibility. Their job is not just to educate the next generation of human beings that may one day shape the destiny of mankind, but they also have the opportunity to inspire the students that enter their classroom--to encourage creativity, to instill confidence and self-esteem, and to help students attain their fullest potential. It is not a profession for the weak or timid--there are many extraordinary qualities that a good teacher must possess. There are many complex issues that must be carefully considered by an individual aspiring to work in this noble field.
Attributes of a Good Teacher
What is it that makes a "good" teacher? There are several attributes that can be found in those individuals who fit this description.
A good teacher is knowledgeable. He understands the field of teaching as well as learning in the content areas (Koch, 2012). When a teacher makes an effort to know as much as he can about the topics he is teaching, he is much more effective in conveying the information to the students.
A good teacher is also articulate. Being able to clearly communicate with her students, their parents, and colleagues is an essential quality for a teacher. Koch (2012) states that "having a sense of humor" is also an important part of this attribute (p. 11). Students who are taught by a teacher who can clearly and effectively convey information in a way that is interesting and fun, will be likely to enjoy the lesson and remember that information.
Another quality found in a good teacher is innovation. Not content to settle with tired, old ways, an innovative teacher constantly searches for exciting new methods and techniques to get his students interested and engaged in their learning experience. He is eager to embrace new technology and learn how to use it effectively for the benefit of his students. He knows that learners who are actively engaged in the lesson being presented are far more likely to appreciate and retain the material being taught.
A good teacher is patient. In teaching, there will always be situations where things do not go as they should, and there will be situations where it is necessary to go above and beyond the usual day-to-day routines. A good teacher will not allow these situations to overwhelm or distress her. She will address difficult circumstances in a cool and calm manner, maintain objectivity, and demonstrate patience to her class.
A good teacher is committed to his profession and to his students. Teaching is not always a forty-hour-a-week occupation. Many teachers spend a great deal of their personal time planning lessons, grading papers, assisting students who need extra help, or other "behind the scenes" work. Additionally, many teachers must spend their own money on supplies, in order to ensure that their students have the best possible learning experience. Most of these unseen efforts will go completely unnoticed. A good teacher accepts these facts, knowing that he may not ever be honored or thanked for his efforts, for he is committed to his profession and to the success and well-being of his students. A dedicated teacher finds his greatest reward not in public acknowledgement or praise, but in the success of his students.
Finally, a good teacher must possess a great deal of love for her profession. Teaching is not a job that leads to financial wealth, but it is far more rewarding in other ways--to those who have a sincere love of teaching. To find pleasure and fulfillment in the classroom leads a teacher to reflect that joy onto her students--and they will notice and benefit from that positivity and energy. These are just some of the attributes that a good teacher will possess.
Academic Standards/Assessment and Accountability
Academic standards are the criteria by which competence is judged. The "incarnation of some version of the issue of standards has woven in and out of education policy for the last thirty years" (Rose, 2009, p. 93). In the same amount of time, there has been debate over standards in education--those who favor standards argue that they increase equity and access to higher learning, and emphasize the importance of accountability. The intent behind standards in the American education system is to define what students in grades Kindergarten through twelfth grade should know in the different subject areas (Rose, 2009). In the more recent legislation from the federal government, such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, an even greater emphasis on accountability resulted in mandatory standardized testing for schools nationwide. In the years that have followed the enactment of No Child Left Behind, there have been testing requirements in math and reading for grades three through eight. The results of these tests are used to determine which schools are performing adequately and which ones are not.
Proponents of this testing maintain that it is a way to encourage greater efficiency and productivity in teachers and schools through the motivation to produce better test scores (Nichols & Berliner, 2008). Such a method seems like a fair and equal way to assess all students in order to ensure that progress is made and goals are met. However, this type of assessment--a "one size fits all" approach--does not account for the fact that students are unique individuals who cannot be accurately and fairly measured by a standardized test. Nichols and Berliner (2008) compare the standardized testing system to the quality control methods used by business: "Tests were chosen as the means of measuring productivity. The business community believed that productivity could be increased without spending more money simply by holding schools and educators accountable through the practice of high-stakes testing" (p. 42).
Of course, schools are not businesses; they are not factories that produce a product to be quality-tested before being sold at market. Students are individual human beings with unique abilities, gifts, and challenges. Any given classroom might contain a wide range of students--some with disabilities, some who are not native-English speakers, some who have emotional, behavioral, or other types of challenges, and some who are middle-of-the-road learners of typical ability (Nichols & Berliner, 2008). A teacher of such a classroom must constantly reflect upon and adjust her teaching practices to appropriately serve the diverse students in her class. Standardized testing forces an unrealistic burden on teachers, as well as students, because one size does not fit all.
Diversity in the Classroom
Because each student is a unique individual, it is important for teachers to be aware of the diversity that is seen in today's classroom. There are many ways in which students can be different, and it is an important part of a teacher's job to be sensitive to these differences. An obvious example of diversity in the 21st century school is the many racial and ethnic backgrounds represented in classes across the country. Koch (2012) states that "by 2010, 43 percent of public school students were considered to be part of a racial or ethnic minority group" (p. 96). As immigration from other countries has increased in recent decades, the ethnic diversity in America's schools has increased as well. Today, about twenty percent of children under the age of eighteen come from immigrant families (Koch, 2012).
Another area of diversity in today's classroom that is directly related to the increased rate of immigration is in the area of language. According to Koch (2012), the number of students that spoke a language other than English at home "has increased from 3.3 million to almost 11 million" from 1979 to 2009 (p. 97). These students face unique challenges as they acquire a second language while also learning grade-level content. Echevarria and Graves (2007) explain: "Challenges in learning English or in performing well in school, when coupled with the general diversity of society, can often produce intensification of racial and ethnic tensions" (p. 80). The challenges faced by English-language learners need to be considered by the 21st-century teacher in America.
A third way in which diversity can be seen in schools is through religious beliefs. Religion is a major influence in a family's culture, and this has a large effect upon a child's identity. The Constitution of the United States is very clear about the protection of everyone's right to religious freedom, but there has been significant controversy in recent decades about what role, if any, that religion should play in America's public schools. Koch (2012) explains that "religious beliefs bring with them various expectations for an individual's behavior, including observance of customs and traditions...Understanding who your students are and the role that religion plays in their lives is significant in helping them to learn and in 'honoring' their identities" (p. 99).
Another defining factor in a person's identity that produces diversity in the classroom is sexual orientation. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of fear and stigma related to having a sexual identity that does not fit within what is considered "normal". There is usually a threat of social rejection and even bullying or physical violence for these individuals. More than 86% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students have reported being verbally harassed at school, while 44 percent reported being physically harassed; a substantial number of these students say they feel unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity (Koch, 2012). To help these students feel safe and accepted in their classes, teachers should work to create a safe environment for all students. Bullying and degrading language should not be tolerated; instead, tolerance and acceptance should be encouraged.
Finally, socio-economic status--a family's "status in society, usually based on a combination of income, occupation, and education"--is another way in which students may differ from each other (Koch, 2012, p. 100). Students who come from lower-income families typically have fewer advantages and opportunities than those who come from wealthier families. Recent census figures show that more than 20% of children under the age of eighteen live in poverty, and many of these children live in single-parent households (Koch, 2012).
There are still other ways in which students can differ. One student may be talented in music, but have very little interest in mathematics. Another student may have terrific interpersonal skills. Still another student may have an astonishing ability to dance or play sports. According to Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, it is possible for a person to possess intelligence in several different ways (Koch, 2012). Some students may have special challenges that must be overcome, such as learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional or behavioral challenges.
Indeed, each child in the classroom is an individual with unique challenges, gifts, and other characteristics. All students have something to offer in a classroom setting, and all deserve to be appreciated and accepted. Diversity in the classroom presents an opportunity for students to learn valuable lessons in tolerance, acceptance, and respect for others regardless of differences (Dixon, 2005). A teacher who sees all of her students as equal individuals, each with value and deserving of respect for who they are, will help ensure that all of her students feel loved and accepted--and will set a fine example for her class to follow.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, some astounding changes came to schools across the country. A revolution in technology has forever changed the way teachers teach, and the way students learn. The advent of personal computers and the internet has made mind-boggling amounts of information on nearly every conceivable subject available with just a few clicks of a mouse. This has created what Koch (2012) describes as the flat classroom; that is, "a classroom in which students, like the teacher, have ready access to information, so that the teacher is not the lone expert" (p. 150). This changes quite a bit about the role that a teacher plays in his classroom. He is no longer the gate keeper to the world of knowledge, but more like a guide who leads the way, directing his students and helps them develop their understanding as they acquire ever more access to information (Koch, 2012).
The benefits of technology in the classroom are nearly countless. It has made it easier for teachers and administrators to tackle "the daunting task of both leading and managing students and standards" by using computer programs to track student progress and ensure that students are meeting standards (Jenkins, 2005, p. 23). Communication options such as email, chat, or even video teleconferencing can link classes from different countries, making it possible to meet and learn from people of different cultures. Computer software and internet programs have created ways to make learning fun and interactive for students. Interactive programs "create environments in which students can learn by doing, receive feedback, and continually refine their understanding" (Koch, 2012, p. 152). For example, an interactive map program can help students learn the locations and capitals of the fifty states in a fun and engaging way that would have been impossible just a few short years ago. Through school websites and email systems, teachers have a way to efficiently and effectively communicate with students and parents. For instance, grades can be posted on a secure website, allowing parents to know in real-time how well their children are progressing, and if there are any problems that need to be addressed. Assistive technology--"devices that increase the capabilities of people with disabilities"--can make a world of difference to students with limited abilities (Koch, 2012, p. 161). These are just some of the ways in which modern technology has revolutionized education.
However, access to these modern marvels is not equal for all students. There is a gap between those who have regular access to technology, such as the internet, and those who do not. This gap is known as the digital divide (Koch, 2012). It is a vital skill in today's society to be fluent in the use of computers and other digital technology; those who do not learn these skills are at a steep disadvantage in this information age. Therefore, the effective use of technology in the classroom is an important way to bridge the divide and give all students the opportunity to learn these necessary skills.
Goodness of Fit
I have been in love with learning for as long as I can remember; and I love to share the things I learn with others! My belief is that teaching is first and foremost about guiding children in order to help them reach their full potential. My sincere desire is to serve my students to the best of my ability, to find joy in their successes, and to love and respect each of them for the unique individuals that they are. Not only do I want to teach them the skills they need, but my heart is open to the lessons they will have for me. I have a special interest in fostering acceptance and tolerance for those who are "different". This is a direct result of my own childhood experience of being bullied at school. Reflecting upon the attributes of a good teacher, I believe that I do possess all of them to at least some degree, although some may need some further development as I continue my journey toward becoming a professional teacher. My biggest challenge as I progress in my teacher education will be to increase my articulation and communication skills. I can also improve in the area of patience--as I believe that it is very difficult for a teacher to have too much patience! Like the students that will one day fill my classroom, I am a work in progress, and I will endlessly strive to learn from my experiences to better myself for the benefit of my students as I journey through my career as a teacher.
In conclusion, it is clear to see that the teaching profession is not ideal for everyone. An aspiring teacher must carefully consider the complex issues that are relevant to this field. Teaching is not an easy job, nor is it likely to bring riches or fame. However, for a person who loves children, has a passion for helping them grow and learn, and who seeks to grow and learn along with them, it is easily one of the most fulfilling jobs on earth.
Dixon, S. (2005, Spring). Inclusion--not segregation or integration is where a student with special needs belongs. The Journal of Educational Thought, 39(1), 33-53. Retrieved April 17, 2011 from ProQuest Database
Echevarria, J., & Graves, A. (2007). Sheltered content instruction: Teaching English language learners with diverse abilities (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon.
Jenkins, L. L. (2005, August). The power of technology. School Administrator, 62(7), 23-26. Retrieved April 20, 2011 from ProQuest Database
Koch, J. (2012). Teach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.
Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2008, December). Why has high-stakes testing so easily slipped into contemporary American life?. The Education Digest, 74(4), 41-48. Retrieved April 27, 2022 from ProQuest Database
Rose, M. (2009, Fall). Standards, teaching, learning. Journal of Basic Writing, 28(2), 93-102. Retrieved April 29, 2011 from ProQuest Database