What makes a good teacher?

The best teachers aren’t just knowledgeable authority figures—they also know how to inspire and motivate their students. Here are the characteristics of a good teacher. 

An apple sitting on an open book surrounded by equations

 

If you’re looking for a career where you can make a real impact on people’s lives, then teaching couldn’t be a better choice. As a primary, secondary or early childhood education teacher, you’re in a position to quite literally shape the next generation. 

But how do you become the kind of teacher your students remember long after school is over? How do you not only help them understand the world, but also discover lifelong passions? Let’s explore the qualities that turn beginner teachers into truly great teachers. 

What does being a good teacher mean? 

Good teachers nail all the practical skills they need to qualify as a teacher, like curriculum planning and classroom management. But they also offer so much more than their qualifications. They have personal characteristics that inspire students, garner respect from parents and forge bonds with other teaching staff. 

These skills and qualities aren’t always just there. People become good teachers through years of study and plenty of practice, not to mention the mentorship of other teachers. So if you’re worried you’re not there yet—you can be.    

Five practical skills you need to be a good teacher 

Before we go into the personal characteristics that will make you a good educator, let’s explore the practical teacher skills you need to thrive. These are the skills you’ll learn in your Bachelor of Education and placements, so if you’re still deciding on teaching as a career, it’s worth considering if these things interest you.

Strong literacy and numeracy skills

Your number one requirement as a teacher is to have higher than average literacy and numeracy skills—because you need to be able to help children develop in these areas. In fact, as an initial teacher education student, you’ll have to prove that you rank among the top 30% of Australians in personal literacy and numeracy skills before you can graduate. You’ll demonstrate this by sitting the Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students, usually at the mid-point of your degree. 

Lesson planning skills

Lesson planning is a crucial skill that you’ll learn during your degree. It involves deciding what your students will learn each day, how they’ll learn it, what resources you’ll need and how you'll evaluate performance. If you don’t take the time to do this, your kids will lose focus and you’ll get flustered, which can lead to an out-of-control classroom. 

Pedagogical skills

A big concept you’ll learn about in your Bachelor of Education or Teaching is something called ‘pedagogy’—which is basically a term used to describe how you teach. When you have strong pedagogical skills, you know how different teaching methods work and when to use them. This can mean the difference between an engaged classroom and a bored one. 

Classroom management skills

It can be challenging to hold kids’ attention, especially when there are 30 of them, all eager to distract each other, play outside or derail your lesson! Good classroom management involves more than just being strict. You also need to be able to build healthy relationships with your students, set boundaries and expectations, control the pace of the lesson and anticipate behaviour. The best teachers learn these skills through their degree, but then build on them through trial and error. 

Technology skills

Over 70% of teachers say that they’re constantly finding new ways to connect with their students through technology, so a talent for tech will serve you well in your teaching career. Your kids have social media, online games and video editing encoded in their DNA, and they’re way more likely to get excited about topics if you can incorporate those things into your lessons.  

Five personal qualities of a good teacher

With those practical skills, you’re halfway there, but there are certain personal qualities that are also essential for life as a teacher. Here are five big ones teachers say you need to truly connect with your students.  

Passion 

Think about the people who’ve inspired your own thirst for knowledge. The teachers, family members, friends, politicians, authors, celebrities... They were passionate about their subject matter, right? And that passion was contagious, wasn’t it? The best teachers are genuinely interested in what they teach, and great at injecting that enthusiasm into their lessons. 

Primary school teacher Ally Kettle, who jokes that she’s described as “energetic” by her co-workers, thinks her passion for science makes all the difference with her students. “I have preps who file into my classroom going ‘We love STEM, we love STEM!’ and it never gets old. It’s all about making them excited about learning new things.”

Confidence

The most persuasive teachers don’t just know their stuff—they also radiate confidence. They have a strong presence and the storytelling skills to take their students on a journey with them. 

Tas Husain, an award-winning teacher from Macquarie University, put it well when she said, "Teaching is 10% knowledge and 90% theatre”. She believes you’ve got to put on a performance if you want your students to listen.    

Empathy 

As a teacher, you’re often the most influential adult in your students’ lives, outside of their parents. The way you interact with them can have an enormous effect on their self-esteem and confidence. Good teachers empathise with their students no matter their background or ability, respect the pace at which they learn and adjust their teaching accordingly. 

You should also have the emotional intelligence to recognise when your students are struggling outside the classroom. Childhood can be a hard time, and students may display signs of bullying, parental neglect or mental health challenges—and even confide in you directly. Good teachers monitor these students, don’t dismiss them when they request help, and follow up with their school’s mental wellbeing team. 

Patience

As well as empathy, the best teachers have an incredible amount of patience. They’re willing to answer the same questions over and over, re-explain concepts and wait for students to get it, because they know the end result makes it all worthwhile. 

“I think the best thing about being a teacher is watching students have that ‘Aha!’ moment," says Brendan Coutts, a secondary school teacher from Iona Presentation College. "When you know they've really struggled with a skill or a concept, and you're able to guide them through that and help them."

Curiosity 

Great teachers also recognise that their own education never stops. They’re curious about the world around them, and open to learning about new teaching methods, technologies and trends. Brendan believes teachers have “a responsibility to continue educating themselves” so they can lead by example. 

In fact, as a registered teacher, you'll be expected to complete a set amount of continued professional development every year, so a love for conferences, workshops and online courses is all but essential.  

 

Would you like to become a teacher, or upskill so you can take your career even further? Check out the online education courses available through Open Universities Australia.