By Navarun Jagatpal
Math/Physics Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Ever since I started teaching, I’ve wondered about what it really means to be a good teacher. I’d like to propose some criteria for good teaching. I don’t have a degree in education, but I’ve been teaching and tutoring for many years. These criteria are ideas that I’ve thought up through experience on the job.

Before I get to the list, I’d like to point out one mistake that a lot of people seem to make. Being smart is not the same thing as being a good teacher. Students applying to universities seem to make this error. They might think, “Wow! That guy has two PhD’s and a Nobel Prize in Chemistry! I want to take his class!”

Knowing your subject well is certainly a part of being a good teacher, but it’s not enough. Beyond the knowledge of the subject, you also need the ability to convey your subject to others. Many people have the knowledge without having a decent ability to convey it. The criteria I’m suggesting below mostly deal with other aspects, beyond just the knowledge.

So here we go. My qualities of an effective teacher…

1. Re-explanation

A lot of teachers seem to have the attitude that they only want to explain something once. They’ll think, “I’m going to explain this concept to the student, in a way that makes sense to ME. If the student doesn’t get it after I explain it once, then I’m not going to say it again.”

That’s a bad attitude. Good teachers, in my opinion, would consider the possibility that their first explanation wasn’t clear enough. If a student was still confused, a good teacher would try to explain the same concept again, more clearly, or in a different way.

2. Individual attention

It seems like some teachers only want to lecture and do nothing else. But if a teacher takes time to work with his or her students one-on-one, I think that’s much better than a teacher who only lectures.

This could involve helping students work through an assignment. It could be responding to a student’s question in the middle of a lecture. Or it could be giving advice during office hours.

I realize that–to some extent–providing individual attention relates to class size. For example, if a professor is required to teach a class with 300 students, and he doesn’t give them all individual attention, I wouldn’t automatically call him a bad teacher solely based on that.

3. Patience

Students are always going to do things more slowly than teachers. A certain task in a class might be easy for a teacher, but that same task might be very difficult for a student. Many teachers seem to forget that. Because of this difference, teachers should be patient with their students.

For example, let’s say a teacher is working one-on-one with a student, on a math problem. The teacher should guide the student through the problem, while allowing the student to do most of the work. The teacher might be able to finish that problem in 30 seconds, and the student might take 2 minutes to do that same problem, even with the teacher’s guidance. If that’s the case, then the teacher should be willing to spend 2 minutes with the student on that one problem, patiently watching and allowing the student to do the work at their own pace.

4. Self-questioning

A lot of teachers seem to have the attitude of “I’m always right.” They seem to be completely unwilling to consider the possibility that they might be doing something wrong with their teaching. When someone gives that teacher some kind of suggestion for improvement, they will immediately respond with “No!” and they will reject the suggestion. (All people do this, to some extent. In psychology research, this is described as self-justification.)

But this is a bad attitude. Instead of this, teachers should question themselves. “Are my tests too hard?” “Are my lectures boring?” They should also listen to feedback from students and coworkers. Only by questioning yourself can you recognize your own flaws and begin to fix them. Even the most experienced teachers have room for improvement and should question themselves in this way.

So how about you? What do you think are the qualities of an effective teacher?

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