What makes a teacher great?

Defining 10 characteristics of outstanding educators

April 06, 2024 01:53 pm | Updated 01:53 pm IST

Great teachers constantly reinvent themselves so that they are prepared to address fresh challenges.

Great teachers constantly reinvent themselves so that they are prepared to address fresh challenges. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Great teachers are not born, but made. The process is long and arduous but the outcome is rewarding. What goes into the making of an exceptional teacher? What are the hallmarks of a great teacher?

Self-reflection: Great teachers constantly reflect on their profession and their academic pursuits. They frequently ask themselves: Did my students learn anything today? Is there anything I could have done better? Was my pedagogic strategy appropriate and fruitful? Did I complete the tasks that I had planned? Did I collect my students’ feedback and analyse it? This introspection and self-reflection enables them to look back and forward and become better teachers. A teacher who does not introspect on his/her everyday academic pursuits lacks the propulsion to go forward.

Multidisciplinary: Such teachers are multi-disciplinarians and impart a holistic education. While grounded in their own respective disciplines, they are acutely conscious that knowledge is whole and, therefore, undertake inter- and multidisciplinary projects. Apart from focusing on cognitive development, their goal is to transform their students into well-rounded individuals who will be connected to the transcendent, their fellow human beings and the ecosystem.

Research-oriented: They are research-oriented and try to address real academic problems. They convert academic issues into research problems and try to ‘solve’ them in a relatively short span of time. They collect data, both quantitative and qualitative, to ‘test’ their research hypotheses. The fact that practising teachers strive to find answers to classroom issues through action research projects is to be welcomed.

Experimental: Great teachers take risks in their academic ventures. They do not shy away from trying out different methodologies to teach a particular concept or theory or text. They experiment with new methods, even if these do not always bear fruit. While most teachers shun innovation for fear of failure, outstanding teachers are willing to ‘take the road less travelled by’, despite potential threats and failures.

Use technology: All great teachers are conversant with technology. Post-COVID, the use of technology for academic purposes, especially teaching-learning, has come down. But good teachers ensure that technology assists and complements their teaching. They encourage their students to sign up for MOOCs and use online resources for their academic enrichment. Such teachers constantly update themselves with the latest in technology.

Interactive: They are community-oriented in the sense that they share their stories — successes as well as failures — with their colleagues. They draw inspiration with regard to pedagogy and classroom management from their peers and, in turn, offer suggestions, especially with regard to successful strategies. This makes staff rooms vibrant spaces for informal interactive sessions.

Encourage students: Exceptional teachers believe in the efficacy of student-talk. In a typical classroom, teachers are obsessed with ‘covering’ the syllabus and refuse to devote time to students’ interaction. But outstanding teachers know that students’ interaction should be given time and space and encourage students to not only ask questions but also have a questioning mind. Great teachers catalyse interactions.

Socially committed: Such teachers have a strong social commitment. They do not get lost in esoteric research projects that do not have any connection to ground realities. They are conscious of their responsibility to protect the fragile ecosystem and reach out to the disadvantaged sections through education. They instill in their students a concern for the environment and the marginalised, and encourage them to get involved in transformative extension and outreach activities with the dream of creating an equitable world.

Constant learning: They are life-long learners. They constantly update themselves through Faculty Development Programmes (FDPs). They ensure that the curricula of their respective disciplines is updated periodically so that their students are conversant with the latest developments. They prepare their students to face the future confidently by initiating them into the culture of ‘learning to learn’.

Improvisation: Great teachers, like all good professionals, think on their feet. When they enter a classroom, they are prepared to adjust their teaching strategies and classroom management. This improvisation enables them to face any situation, however unexpected and challenging. In fact, thinking on one’s feet is a vital skill in today’s fast-changing world.

Great teachers constantly reinvent themselves so that they are prepared to address fresh challenges. They revitalise themselves every day so that they remain vibrant and relevant.

The writer is a Professor of English, Gandhigram Rural Institute Deemed-to-be University. Email josephdorairaj@gmail.com

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