What Makes a Teacher Outstanding?

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Tonight I’m asking you to help me write a blog post.  We have all read or heard the research that states that teacher quality is the single most important factor in student success.  Not class size, not resources, not even socioeconomic factors.  Teacher quality. That has me wondering, how do we define what makes a teacher outstanding?  What are the characteristics that an outstanding teacher possesses?

Here’s where your part comes in.  Please think of a teacher you have worked with who you would consider to be truly outstanding and leave a brief comment describing one or two important characteristics that teacher possessed.  You might also think about a teacher that was not outstanding and comment on what they lacked.  I will compile all of your wonderful comments into a future blog post, so PLEASE sound off!!

33 Comments

  1. Tammy

    An outstanding teacher inspires and is a gatekeeper of their classroom for sane and sensible practices.

    Reply
  2. Lynda C.

    An outstanding teacher challenges both students and teachers to always learn and make themselves better at what they do.

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  3. Rosemary

    compassion, dedication, intelligence, creativity, stamina, humor

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  4. Korey Aquino

    Structure balanced with flexibility, empathy, enthusiastic lifelong learner, ability to connect with students one way or another…

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  5. Meghan

    An outstanding teacher is one who truly believes in his/her students’ potential and values the uniqueness of each student in their classroom. I also think teachers with passion and a love of learning stand out from those that just do it as a job.

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  6. DancingQueen

    One of the best teachers I work with has all of the qualities listed above but in addition, she has perseverance. As educators, we stand in the line of fire quite often, from politicians, parents and the general public. Outstanding teachers continue on, finding a way to reach their students no matter what it takes. On the flip side, teachers who make excuses are the poorest quality of educator. No matter what, they will never be outstanding because they won’t get out of their own way.

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  7. Margie Pearse

    Love all the qualities above. An outstanding teacher also builds tenacity and cultivates self-efficacy in his/her students!

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  8. Sara at school

    I think it’s a teacher who really cares about their students but also pushes them to do their best learning / work / thinking.
    Sara

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  9. Nikki

    An outstanding teacher continually learns and grows professionally. He/she believes that every child can succeed and for those who aren’t yet, plans for what he/she (the educator) can be doing differently in order to enable success.

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  10. Melanie Gonzales

    Outstanding teachers are learners themselves who always seek to improve and grow! They build quality relationships with students, parents, their school, and community. They let their passion for the craft shine and inspire others.

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  11. Sharon

    An outstanding teacher is one who studies his/her practice consistently, has full faith in the potential of every student, makes every effort to adjust his/her practice (differentiate) in order to ensure every student experiences growth and success in the moment and in the long run.

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  12. Learning about Life in Second Grade

    I think an outstanding teacher is one that continually expresses to students, even in Kindergarten that they are the future “college bound” leaders of the 21st century. Knowing that not all students are getting any encouragement at home for their future, it is so wonderful to see a teacher make kids dream big with comments about how everything they learn will help them grow in their thinking and make them ready for when they become older and get to go to college.

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  13. Anonymous

    I think being flexible and positive are the two qualities that allow for excellence in teaching. Things change at the drop of a hat in our field and we have to be not only able to roll with it, but we have to be expecting it to happen. The best teachers I have worked with are accepting of change, and happy to keep from becoming stagnant. The hardest teachers to work with are those who throw their arms up and complain when a resource changes, they move grade levels or are presented with something new. They drag down the vibe around them and make others feel bad for welcoming change. Negativity is a major downfall of hard to please teachers, and is the hardest thing for a teacher to change about themselves professionally. I can;t imagine watching a doctor be told about a new method of treating cancer, and telling the person they are too busy to try something new and their patients will be just fine with the treatments he has been using for the past 20 years. That would be just as crazy as a teacher saying the same thing. We have to support and guide them to get our of their own way and to see the bright side of things. After all, can’t you see more when you look at the bright side?

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  14. Deborah Devine

    I think an outstanding teacher is one who truly believes that every child can learn. So when a child doesn’t grasp a new concept, you don’t give up… you just think of a different way to present the idea to the child. Perhaps you need to find out what that child already knows so you can build on that background knowledge to help them make the connection to the new concept. If that doesn’t work, you collaborate with other educators and share ideas about way to make sure they understand.
    Last week I saw a 8 year old Down Syndrome child recreate the dancing in the music video for “Chandelier” after viewing the video 3 times. The music played and only the observers could view the actual dancing in the video, not the child. As I watched in amazement, the child recreated the movements in the correct sequence, complete with appropriate hand movements, and body position. So this deepened my belief that all children can learn, if I can only find the correct path to that learning.

    Reply
  15. Beth Hazelton

    “Countless unseen details are often the difference between mediocre and magnificent.”
    I would also add that a magnificent teacher makes every student feel amazing and valued. Even the lowest kid in the class feels loved and successful because that teacher finds something special that kid can do and highlights for the class and that child.

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  16. Mrs. Clancy

    An outstanding teacher always wants to learn.

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  17. S. Harris

    A great teacher is one who is constantly researching to find the best way to reach his or her students. He or she never gives up on a student and works tirelessly to inspire and reach each child. A great teacher is always evaluating themselves and their practices. He or she is positive when negativity is found all around the campus. He or she is a risk taker. A great teacher takes those children and treats them as his or her own for the 8 hours/9 months/(really forever) that he or she has them. On the flip side, a teacher that doesn’t change or ask questions or never shares ideas leaves much to be desired.
    Stephanie
    Lunch, Snacks, and Recess

    Reply
  18. Justin03

    An outstanding teacher always motivates his students. I’m a teacher at a Phoenix preschool and I always inspire my students to do much better than their previous tasks.

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  19. Terri Fontenot

    Teachers are lifelong learners- we must learn to be able to teach! We must make connections with our students. Push the students to what they did not think was possible ! There has to be empathy for the student and where they are in the learning process

    Reply
  20. Tiffany Wilmore

    One of my most influential teachers in high school was Ms. Richmond. She was my Algebra II teacher and really knew her stuff!!

    At the time, I thought she was the meanest teacher to ever live. She seemed to never smile and always made me feel like I “should know” the answers when I didn’t. But out of the 100 or so teachers who have passed in and out of my life, Ms. Richmond stands out the most because she was harder on me than I was on myself. She drew out the full potential in me and didn’t allow me to settle for second best. As a result, I still remember her name (20 years later), and have forgotten most of my other teacher’s name over the years. Funny, but I also went on to become a high school Algebra teacher, just like Ms. Richmond. I’m sure she is smiling in heaven knowing that she produced another math teacher 🙂

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  21. Lisa

    An outstanding teacher puts relationships with students before all else. He/She is reflective about his/her practice. He/She continually looks to modify the needs of the student in the classroom right now. He/She collaborates with others; inspires others; and celebrates the successes of other. Students and teachers believe that anything is possible when they work with an outstanding teacher.

    Reply
  22. Taffi

    Student engagement! I think a great te teacher can make any concept or activity engage students! When the kids are literally begging to do one more problem, you have a great teacher! She/he has engaged the learners & made the actual work “fun”!

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  23. Christie

    Is genuinely interested in students and content and inspires all who surround them.

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  24. Amber

    Consistent high expectations for all learners. Strong core instruction while differentiating small group. Supportive of fellow teachers and collaborative mindset. Always monitoring and adjusting. Student success measured in growth, not proficiency.

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  25. Cathy H.

    IMO…Knowledge, Patience, Compassion, Engagement. At least that’s my experience.

    Reply
  26. Brooke

    Teaching is such a thankless profession, and it’s very difficult to break such a passionate field of work into a few qualities. I appreciate some of the topics you covered in this post, to add, integrity, candor, knowledge and enthusiasm makes a great teacher to me! I came across a few great Teaching Essay here, you should take a look!

    Reply
  27. Lesley

    I believe that the most outstanding teachers create personal relationships with their students and parents, know their curriculum standards inside out, and present enagaging lessons that leave the students wanting more.

    Reply
  28. Pamela Brett

    An outstanding teacher is always open to new ideas and considers those ideas with a critical lens. An outstanding teacher sees both sides of an issue and is able to admit they are always learning. They seek out the advise of others and share their victories not to earn praise but to inspire others to practice what works!’

    Reply
  29. Lisa S.

    High expectations; flexibility; genuine interest in students; passionate about teaching and learning; willing to collaborate; willing to admit mistakes to students; open to feedback from students, teachers, administration.

    Reply
  30. Lorie Nierman

    They instill growth mindset, themselves believe in lifelong learning and demonstrate that, hold students and other teachers to high expectations, and help others learn how to achieve that!

    Reply
  31. Anonymous

    The most outstanding teacher my daughter had was a great communicator. She was constantly helping students set goals and communicated exactly what they needed to learn, why and how to reach that goal.

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  32. Jessica

    An outstanding teacher doesn’t let their pride stand in the way of the growth of their students or themselves.

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  33. Danielle

    As someone who has found success in the classroom both in academics and character development. I would say high expectations is the single most important quality. I hear people say love, but so often I’ve seen “love”’turn into “they feel sorry for them” and I then expectations become lowered. I’ll say love coupled with high expectations.

    Reply

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