Although students differ in their opinions of different teachers, some teachers gain almost universal approval. The RateMyTeacher website bears evidence to this. It also supports the qualities that are thought to be important in good teachers – read which is said about teachers you have the highest rankings. Given that research studies repeatedly support the notion that the quality of the teacher is the single most important element in the quality of learning occurring in the school classroom, it is important that the qualities of good teachers be distilled and then taught to future and current teachers. Teachers provide inspiration, motivation and open a world of wonder for their students.  I believe people can learn how to become Good Teachers, provided that this is what they want.

It is easy to spend money on new buildings, high tech classrooms and impressive sporting facilities, but how much money is spent on making our teachers the best in the world. Until we isolate the characteristics of the good teacher and then understand how to teach these skills and impart this knowledge to School Teachers, Australia will not do the best it can for future generations. Not only do teacher education institutions need to be able to teach teaching skills, they need to provide student teachers and other teachers with practical experience in an environment in which they can hone their skills.

The first quality of good teachers is that they communicate that they care about their students. This involves little more than well-tuned communication skills which we use in our everyday life. Good teachers do this by asking questions of individuals, giving positive and constructive feedback on their work and being sensitive to the backgrounds of their students. If students feel that their teacher is not interested in them, it can be demotivating. This is especially the case for students who come from  backgrounds which do not promote education.

The second quality of a good teacher is that they must know their subject matter. There is nothing wrong with saying to your students that you will check up on a point of knowledge and get back to them (no-one knows everything). However Good Teachers have an impressive depth of knowledge because they are fascinated by their subject – this fascination and interest is what they impart to the students.

We have all heard of the teacher who knows their subject but has problems teaching it. So while it is a prerequisite to have an in depth knowledge of the subject, it is not all that is needed. Good teachers know how to explain so that students are interested and understand what is being taught. They have a variety of tools and methods at their disposal, to accommodate students with different learning styles. Practical experience, theoretical explanations, videos and computer programs all assist in helping students understand concepts. Good teachers include stories and humour in their lessons – there is nothing like a good story to gain interest.

Fourthly, good teachers know how to question students. Questioning is important so as to assess what students understand, to identify what they don’t understand and to stimulate their thinking. While we test student knowledge and skills in examinations, what we really need to be giving them is the desire and skills for lifelong learning. How teachers question students influences the way they think, the deeper the teacher probes the more it makes students think. Even with young children starting out at school we can ask questions which make them think – questions which do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer.

…………….. to be continued

About the Author

PhD in European Languages and Cultures (specialising in Literary Translation) Department of International Studies Macquarie University