Characteristics of a Good Teacher – What Students See


What are the important characteristics students look for in a good teacher? In most academic and industrial educational settings, the question is interesting but not particularly relevant since students rarely have the opportunity to select their own instructors.

However, at the University level, students do have some choices when it comes to their teachers. Indeed, some enroll in a course because of the academic reputation of the teacher, particularly when it comes to published research or real-world experience. The anticipated knowledge and expertise of the instructor matters more than other criteria.

In the traditional model of education where the teacher has the role of knowledge expert one would expect knowledge to be high on the list of students when evaluating teachers. However, beyond the University setting, this may not be true.

Enter “characteristics of a good teacher” into your favorite Internet search engine and start reading. You will not find a single list that has knowledge of the subject matter as the most important trait or characteristic of a good teacher.

What’s more, where knowledge is listed, it includes modifiers like passion for the subject matter and enthusiasm about the subject matter. It would appear students would prefer a teacher who presents material with passion and enthusiasm over a more knowledgeable expert who appears not to care all that much about what he or she is saying.

There is no single trait dominating the top of the various lists you will find, but those appearing most frequently at the top appear to relate to three areas:

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Inspiration

Good teachers have a way of simplifying the complex into understandable terms, both in the instructional phase of a lecture and in the questioning dialogue that good teachers incorporate into their presentations.

If teachers fail to identify and understand the collective experiences of their students, how can they appropriately target what they say? Teaching a graduate level course to non-majors in the field would imply the need for a different approach than teaching the same course to students who are majoring in the field.

Good teachers listen to their students and often seek verification from the students to ensure they understand the meaning the students are conveying.

Good teachers empathize with their students. Empathy is one of those hard to define qualities that you “know it when you see it.” It is the ability to of the teacher to identify with the feelings of a student. It is difficult to envision how any teacher could have empathy for his or her students without attempting first to identify and understand the experience base from which they come.

Inspiration is another quality hard to define but that students “know it when they see it.” Some see the ability to inspire students to reach new heights as a leadership quality. Students see it as arousing within themselves the belief they can accomplish goals they may have previously felt unattainable.

A common thread in these traits is the ability of teachers to immerse themselves in the experiences of their students.