What makes a great teacher?

It almost goes without saying that a critical ingredient to creating a great education system is the presence of great teachers. In fact, a landmark international benchmarking study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. went as far as to say “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”

Over the past 10 years, both our country and state have had a heavy focus on improving the teacher workforce – mostly through changes in teacher evaluation systems.

While the impact of this strategy is murky, what is clear is that teachers are critically important.

Raising the performance of an entire education system does not happen without a clear-eyed understanding of what we are trying to accomplish. So, as we embark on ways to raise the quality of Jeffco’s educator workforce, what are the things we should be looking for or building up in our educators?

All of us remember that incredible teacher in our lives, who really made a difference and had an impact on who we are.

So, the critical question for you is, “what makes a great teacher?” Please post your thoughts below, and later this week I will also post mine. I look forward to reading your perspectives.


11 thoughts on “What makes a great teacher?

  1. “No written word, nor spoken plea. Can teach the youth, what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves. It’s what the teachers are themselves,”
    This poem was a favorite of one of my mentors, the late John Wooden. Great teachers teach and lead by example.
    The difference between effective teachers and their less effective colleagues is not what they know. It was what they do. Great teachers establish a teaching-learning relationship with their students. They get to know them so well that they can provide the exact instruction that each student needs. Great teachers know trust is the foundation of a relationship and they work tirelessly to build it with each member of the school community. The atmosphere in their classrooms is positive and they treat every person with dignity and respect. By sharing a positive attitude and making learning engaging, they help build a climate and culture within a classroom and school that is warm, welcoming, and truly collaborative.
    Great teachers, no matter how good they are, still want to be better. They have a steadfast commitment to their personal growth, knowing the better they are, the greater capacity they have to give back to others. They learn as much about their subject matter as possible to deeply understand it, and throughout their career, they learn as much as they can. And when a students’ struggle, they look first to what they can do to help them learn. Great teachers have a plan and purpose for everything they do. They keep notes, analyze lessons, plan and plan some more so they can perfect the next day’s lesson. They are driven to prepare each student for their future and are dedicated to the cognitive, social, and emotional growth of each child in their care.
    Great teachers continually focus on students first. They focus on expectations, not rules or consequences of breaking said rules. They set key expectations and establish relationships so that students want to meet those expectations. They thoughtfully manage their classrooms and have the belief deep within their soul that EVERY child CAN succeed. Ultimately, great teachers have high expectations for their students, and even higher expectations for themselves. They know who the variable is in their classroom – it’s them! Great teachers know they do not teach classrooms, they teach individuals. They are accountable and responsible to each individual under their supervision. Great teachers have an immutable conviction that each student learns and they will do whatever it takes to for each student to learn and succeed.
    Passion, enthusiasm, encouragement, respect for others, commitment, joy, and believing all students are natural learners are at the heart of a great teacher. They as Coach Wooden shared, know it’s what they are themselves that makes a difference in the lives of every child they serve.


  2. For me a great teacher is one who has a passion for teaching and truly care about their students as people not as a name on a roster who only matters while they are occupying a desk in your room. A great teacher loves the content they teach and constantly strive to further their own knowledge and understanding of the content so as to enrich their own lessons in the classroom. Great teachers do not see their job as only being a 7-3, 9 month job, but as a job that is year round and whose true working hours extend beyond the 7-3 times me frame.

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  3. Great teaching doesn’t happen by accident, it takes time to think, plan and prepare great lessons. We need to ensure we are giving our teachers the time for greatness. Many teachers need another planning period, especially rookie teachers. This would allow for both independent and collaborative interaction. It would also allow teachers to preserve their love of teaching by maintaining a sustainable work schedule.

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  4. Students deserve the best teachers and our community should settle for nothing less. Waiting to support teachers in becoming more effective using evaluation, IEGs and PD is too little, too late. The best teachers start in the best teacher education programs. Having high-quality teaching programs at universities would elevate the profession and create a baseline of knowledge and skills. Teachers would emerge from the programs with background knowledge of basic pedagogical texts and the developmental needs/levels of their future students.

    While evaluation is a helpful tool after teachers have been properly trained and mentored, the mentoring piece only seems to happen if new teachers reach out for support or are lucky enough to be hired onto a strong teaching team. There should be a clear professional path for teachers as they progress through their career, including structures in place for teachers mentoring new or struggling teaching peers. While Jeffco has many passionate professionals in the Instructional Coach positions, these TOSAs seems to mainly function as assessment specialists, coaching around the times they have to crunch data and plan testing schedules. What a loss of a resource for school that could truly benefit students.

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  5. The best teachers show their passion for their subject and their students. When teachers invest their energy, minds and hearts, students do the same. Jeffco has many excellent teachers making huge strides with students every day. Our opportunity is to share that success across the system so more students can benefit from the best.


  6. It is difficult to respond to this question after being evaluated by the current teacher rubric. Apparently, the only way to be a “great teacher” is to make sure my students can recite the learning goal for the day to a visiting administrator, for me to teach pieces of literature about skateboarding and snowboarding to show “cultural sensitivity” toward my students, to focus the majority of my time in my PLC on Writing and word-smithing an IEG, to balance “teacher time” with “student time” by speaking/lecturing no more than 12 minutes in a 52 minute period, by ensuring there is at least one new grade in the grade book each week — even if that grade is fairly meaningless busy work– and a host of other ridiculous technicalities which have sucked the joy out of teaching! The great teachers I have seen have been allowed to let their passions show through — passions for the subject matter and passions for working with young people. Great teachers demonstrate a joy in what they do.

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  7. Great teaching is a combination of many things, starting with love of learning, a passion for helping others, great teacher preparation programs at the colleges/universities, great teacher mentoring programs in the districts for new hires, plenty of planning time to produce engaging lessons, and time for team and personal reflection. Great teaching also includes having strong community relationships, parental support, and school involvement, along with administration that leads and builds on the leadership skills of the staff. Great teaching happens when the administration supports and builds a climate and culture conducive to innovation and differentiated learning styles. Great teachers need a district that supports and encourages teachers to continue their education with fair contracts to keep the teachers in the profession. Great teachesrs also need a district that grows and promotes their people as well as encourages them to be a part of building and District decisions.

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  8. Many of the ideas I’ve read so far are points with which I completely agree. A few things that came to mind that I didn’t see… each year is a fresh start with students who are different than the previous. It’s especially challenging when the teacher is changing grade levels. Planning is crucial, but it’s also important to have a thought partner to help with planning. A solid understanding of the curriculum and a plan for differentiating to meet the needs of all students. Give teachers the resources to make instruction relevant, fun, and practical. Schools should support students with social and emotional services when needed. Provide impacted students with counseling strategies to cope with homelessness, domestic concerns, and chemical addictions. Teachers are often the first to learn of issues and they work to protect their students. This adds another layer of responsibility in a teacher’s job.

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  9. “What makes a great teacher?” As is the case with any profession, an individual is great at what they do when they love what they do; when they’ve got the education, continuing training and tools to do a great job; when they are regarded as a professional by those they work with and for; when the work they do is valued; when they have the time and support they need to do a great job; when they are given the flexibility to be creative and innovative….and for a teacher in particular, again in my experience as a parent and not as a teacher, teachers are the most successful when they are able to work in partnership with families to do what’s best for their students.

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  10. Thanks, everyone for all the responses! After reading all these comments, I think you’ve covered all the bases I can think of!

    Hard working, making connections with students, holding high expectations, a commitment to growing professionally – all these elements are in the responses above.

    The only element I would add is that, for most great teachers, the work is really a calling. Great teachers have not only the professional and student-centered focus that many of you have written about, but they also connect with and understand the moral importance of this work, and it goes deep into who they are as people.

    Thanks everyone for engaging!


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