How do you define a great teacher?


Come on, you remember your favorite teacher…you remember their name…you remember the grade…you remember how you felt in their classroom.  So…what was so great about them?  My last post was about remembering a time when you felt like you really learned in school, which made me think about the people who were behind those learning opportunities.  Mrs. Edleman and Mr. Tucker were great teachers…interestingly enough, the two learning experiences I talked about in my four question exercise were designed by these two teachers.  Could it be that engaging students in authentic learning allows for great teaching and learning?

How do you define a great teacher?

  • Is it the college they went to or the degrees they hold?
  • Is it their certifications or the school district they teach in?
  • Perhaps it is their ability to teach to the standards or their classes have the highest test scores?
  • Perhaps it is the content knowledge they bestow upon students?

Or maybe you could define a great teacher by…

  • Student growth while in their class
  • Experiences that will be remembered years after
  • Engagement of students on a daily basis
  • Instilling curiosity, creativity, and learning into their lesson design
  • Their ability to collaborate and learn from other teachers
  • Making connections for students through subjects and technology integration…and making connections with each student
  • Learning as much from their students as their students learn from them

When I think back to Mrs. Edleman and Mr. Tucker, I have no clue where they went to college, what degrees they held, what kind of certification they had, or how they ranked in their classes with standardized testing.  I do, however, remember learning, growing, being curious and engaged…the feeling I had when I was in their room…you know, those invisible things that are hard to measure?  We measure teachers by tangible, testable things because it is easy.  As teachers, we have been striving to create authentic assessments for our students, so how about doing the same for teachers? Let’s redefine teaching and focus on those invisible elements by creating portfolios of our work, lessons, videos of projects, student samples, parent letters, and reflection from students…they’ll define a great teacher for you.

While mulling this post over, I received a letter in the mail from my youngest’s first grade teacher.  I can tell you that she is a great teacher.  Why? Because she connected to, supported, and challenged my high functioning autism spectrum little guy.  This is an excerpt of what she wrote:

I wish I could find the words to describe what an honor it was to have the opportunity to teach your son this year.  We have laughed together, learned together and grown together.  He has taught me many things about teaching and life and will always hold a very special place in my heart. His determination to do well, his kind and gentle heart, sense of humor and handsome little smile will undoubtedly take him very far in his life ahead.

Great teachers do these types of things…they are not just a teacher, they are a part of the classroom community.  They teach, they learn, they lead, they reflect, and they grow every year with every child that walks through their doorway.  A great teacher is ultimately defined by the expectations placed upon the person defining them.  It is different for everyone…we are, in fact, individuals.  We can, however, focus on that invisible element…that intangible…to give each student in our classes a great experience.  After all, it isn’t about the greatness of the teacher, but the greatness experienced every day by every student and every teacher.  Next time you hear a student (or your child) say, “I had a GREAT day at school!” smile and remember what that really means.

12 thoughts on “How do you define a great teacher?

  1. teacherken

    you might consider how kids define a great teacher. I wrote about a piece by Keith Middleton that appeared at AOL news. Here’s the link for what I wrote:

    and here are the top 11 things listed by the kids about great teachers, that they

    * Know us personally, our interests and strengths
    * Let us know who they are as individuals
    * Smile at us
    * Encourage us to participate in school activities
    * Spend time beyond class time to help us be successful in their class
    * Give us descriptive feedback on assignments
    * Tell us why
    * Share how what we learn is connected to real life
    * Apologize when they make mistakes
    * Give meaningful work
    * Are energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy their job

    1. mrspal1 Post author

      Thanks for sharing those, Ken!
      I love that list! It is so important to have kids reflect on great teaching. Often, we are afraid to ask, for fear of rejection or getting our feelings hurt. I’m actually thinking that this might be a great blogging exercise for them! I’m so glad you stopped by.
      🙂 Megan

  2. Gary Hewgley

    A great teacher does two things: he/she gets the students to learn and gets them to enjoy learning. A great teacher loves to learn and it is like a ray of sunshine to the students. This ray of light is called enjoyment.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention How do you define a great teacher? | middle school 101 --

  4. Kami Mulzet

    Megan, this is such a meaningful post! I wrote a thank you note to my high school English teacher over 25 years after graduating. I wanted him to know how much he had influenced my life, and my own decision to become a teacher. I wasn’t his best student, but he told me that I was a “real student,” because of my love of learning. It’s good to remember that the most important things are usually more personal.

    1. mrspal1 Post author

      Thanks for posting, Kami.
      How interesting that he remembered you for your love of learning…nothing has changed in 25 years! That is one of the first things that I think of you as a teacher…you love to learn. Not only is it evident to me, but your students know it…they can feel it. I love that you instill a love for learning in your students every day!
      🙂 Megan

  5. kelliem18

    Well, I would define my teacher by her smile and her graciousness. She used to always cheer me on, and encourage me on the work that I was doing, especially my math homework, and my math work. She was the COOLEST teacher EVER!

  6. Colleen

    I’m returning to teaching after my mat leave, and I’m looking for ways to engage and get to know my Grade 8’s this year. I’ve often toyed around with doing some sort of biography memoir unit. I just saw your post about a unit you do with your Grade 8’s. I would love to hear a bit more about these assignments if possible.
    I’ve started with teambuilding themed lessons and think that a personal memoir would be a perfect way to continue.


  7. NM

    I had 2 teacher experiences during the 1954 – 1956 years of first time school integration that I will never forget. The first one was a “horror story” in 1954 when I was in the 4th grade in D.C. As the best reader in my all-Negro classroom, I was shocked (and still remember) when the new white teacher, an older women, instantly put me in the 2nd reading group, without any test that I could recall. I spent the first 2 months literally clawing my way back to the top group. She and I spent the entire school yar on the “battle ground”, as I was probably then and now just as strong-willed as she -smiles now. But my experience in the 5th grade was a complete turn-around. I had the most wonderful teacher, a Mr. Webb, who seemed to instantly recognize my interests in all things educational, and who spent time interacting with me, asking me questions and allowing me to banter back and forth about what I was reading and loving about subjects such as social studies, language arts and cultural arts. Thank you for showing me early what a good teacher is and helping me with that standard of excellence, which I use to this day as a director of inner city free enrichment programs. NM

  8. Joseph Haddad

    Hey, I really liked your post I found this very interesting considering recently (like last year) there has been a movement to start connecting teacher achievement to test scores. I believe test scores aren’t a valid representation of how well a teacher teaches (or how well a student learns for that matter). Personally, there was no big difference in gpa between the the teachers I have learnt most from and the average teacher. This also made me think about all the teachers I’ve liked over the years and really analyze why and while I cannot place my finger directly on the “intangible” quality, I have at least started thinking about it and how to acquire it once I do teach. Thanks

Leave a Reply