Great teachers are life changing. We’re often inspired by the stories of famous teachers like John Keating from Dead Poets Society or Erin Gruwell from Freedom Writers. But the teachers who have the most impact day in and day out typically go without any praise. They fly right under the radar.
These superhero teachers stay after school to help a struggling student understand geometry. They’re up late practicing tomorrow’s science experiment in their kitchen. They’re always brainstorming new ways to bring the material to life for their students, and their passion for teaching is contagious.
Good teachers are all around us! But you’ll likely never see them in an award-winning film about education. They do the hard work of connecting with their students, even on the days when they’re exhausted and no one says thank you.
Do you remember your favorite teacher? What stood out to you about him or her? Odds are, they have one or two (or all five) of these traits of a great teacher.
1. They lead by example.
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Great teachers don’t just tell their students what to do. They paint the picture for them. They live out the character traits that they value so highly, and their students see it every day. A student is much more likely to get excited about budgeting if they know their personal finance teacher is actively working a budget too. They’re not alone. Their teacher is in it with them!
More is caught than taught. That’s because students are always watching their teachers—even when you think they’re not. Good teachers are role models, setting an example for their students in their personal lives as well as in the classroom.
2. They care about the whole student.
If a student’s dog just died, if his parents are getting divorced, or if his family is moving to a new neighborhood, schoolwork won’t be high on his list of priorities. He’ll likely struggle to focus, and a good teacher knows that home life affects school life.
By creating a safe, supportive learning environment inside the classroom, the teacher builds trusting relationships with his students. He meets them where they are emotionally and mentally and helps them feel seen. A great teacher truly cares about his students’ lives and sees them as more than just a set of letter grades.
3. They make the material come to life.
Remember that math teacher who used gummy bears to teach you fractions? Or the science teacher who put Mentos candy in a liter of soda to explain chemical reactions? You probably never forgot about that, because your teacher made it fun! When something just isn’t clicking for a student, good teachers don’t give up. They come up with new ways to make their lessons interesting and engaging for their students.
These teachers also know how to tap into their students’ interests to make the lessons stick. Most teachers are at least one generation ahead of their students, so there’s often a cultural gap to overcome. But a good teacher takes the time to figure out what her students are interested in so she can motivate them. (Sometimes all she needs is a trendy YouTube video reference to make her students’ ears perk up!)
When a student can connect easily with the lesson (whether it’s through gummy bears or YouTube), they’re much more likely to pay attention. Great teachers know that and go above and beyond to make the material come to life for their students.
4. They’re passionate.
Even if they’re not necessarily passionate about their subject area (not all elementary school teachers love teaching about the life cycle of a chicken), great teachers are passionate about teaching their students. They’re dedicated to their students’ success and want to see them thrive.
And this passion is contagious! It fills the classroom with joy and anticipation, so the students are always wondering what their teacher has up his sleeve. A teacher’s passion reassures his students that learning is important and keeps them hungry for more.
5. They never stop learning.
A great teacher is a lifelong learner and aims to cultivate that same attitude in her students. Some teachers are required to take continuing education courses to keep up with their subject area, but this isn’t a burden for the exceptional teacher—it’s a joy! Whether it’s learning for professional development, diving into a new type of classroom technology, or studying a different teaching technique, a great teacher never stops learning—and she’s excited to teach her colleagues what she’s learning.
Students shouldn’t stop learning when the school bell rings for the day either. Formal education only goes so far, so a great teacher fosters an attitude of lifelong learning in her students. She demonstrates her love for personal growth, joy of reading and commitment to personal development. She encourages her students to be lifelong learners by getting excited about new ideas, having a curious mind, and always asking questions.
Every year, thousands of students learn life-changing financial literacy skills through our Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum. Your students can be next! The curriculum simplifies big topics like debt, insurance, taxes, real estate and the global economy. Make sure your students are ready to enter their future with confidence and tackle their finances head on!