What makes an effective teacher?

Sometimes I think we are forever looking for a magic bullet in education. A recipe for the perfect teacher. We create frameworks, standards and checklists, trying to distill the characteristics of the most effective teachers into a simple formula.


We talk about good practices and bad practices and best practices, and we base it all on research.


In my twenty years of teaching, however, I’ve seen a lot of different teaching styles. Some of the most effective teachers I’ve known, with highly engaged classes and whose students show significant growth, teach with wildly different approaches.


Some use textbooks, some are very teacher directed, some rarely use technology, some are very traditional. Others are more student centred, or won’t touch textbooks, some are constantly ‘innovative’ and use technology very effectively to support learning.


I’ve seen some teachers who appear do the exact opposite of what a lot of best practice statements tell us but achieve great results with their students, and some who would do well on any checklist but are just not as effective.


My point is, I don’t believe good teaching can be reduced to a set of behaviours or indicators on a checklist. These sorts of guidelines are useful, but good teaching is more than that. It is as much relational as it is behavioural.


In my observation, students respond to teachers who care about them and respect them, who are enthusiastic about their subject, who genuinely want their students to share in that joy, and who bother to find out where their students are at so that they can bring them to the next level.


The strategies a teacher employs in their classroom are less important than the relationship they build with their students. Without a relationship of trust and mutual respect, a passion for the subject and a committment to helping each and every student to learn, even the best strategies can fail.



3 thoughts on “What makes an effective teacher?

  1. Trevor says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It comes down to the relationships you foster with your students – get them working with you. There is something in the old saying “Good teachers are born and not made.” Success or failure is often bound up with your personality and with your degree of self-respect. The saddest thing I’ve ever heard from a classroom? A teacher yelling “YOU WILL RESPECT ME” at an out-of-control class.

    • Hi Trevor,
      Thank you for commenting. That poor teacher – yelling for respect just isn’t going to work. When I think about the great teachers who made a difference to me when I was at school they all had these things in common – they were passionate about their subject and cared about their students. They wanted me to do well, I knew that, and it inspired me to try to do the best I could.

  2. Trevor says:

    Hi Corinne
    Each of the factors you mention is critically important and what is more they have to be applied consistently – to be part of your personality in other words. Funnily enough, the teacher who inspired me to also become a teacher was hopeless in his relationships with children but brilliant (and inspiring – to me at least) in the ways he found to enrich our learning experiences.

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