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What Makes a Great Teacher?

At the end of the last school year, we asked students, "What makes a great teacher?" More than 3,000 high school students took our poll. They picked these three most important teacher qualities:

  1. The teacher explains things well and makes the subject interesting.
  2. The teacher is funny and has a lot of personality.
  3. The teacher is helpful with things other than classwork (e.g., with career and other guidance).

Making Schoolwork Interesting — and Fun!

There's nothing really surprising here. Who doesn't want teachers to explain things in a way that makes the subject more enjoyable? But plenty of people don't realize how important this is to the learning process. Not only are students more likely to pay attention if information is presented in an engaging way, but the information is easier to understand and remember.

Humor helps things stick in our minds. So teachers who are funny or tell good stories can make some subjects — like history — easier to relate to. All of this helps students do better on tests and enjoy school more.

Helping Beyond the Classroom

High school is a time when students build relationships with teachers that go beyond class assignments. Teachers often play more of a role in students' lives by doing things like writing recommendation letters or giving career advice.

If a teacher puts you at ease and you can talk about more than just schoolwork, you're more likely to go to that teacher for help and advice on personal issues. Teachers know that things like stress or family problems can affect a person's schoolwork. Good teachers want to help students get past the non-schoolwork things that stand in the way of success, from dealing with peer pressure to coping with bullying or cliques.

One final theme stood out in our poll: The importance of teachers treating students with respect and making an attempt to include everyone. One student told us that the best teachers "treat their students with equality."

What Makes You a Great Student?

Ever wonder what teachers think of you? Well, we asked. More than 3,500 teachers took our "What makes a great student?" poll. Here are the top 3 things teachers say make students stand out:

  1. The student is willing to try his/her best every day.
  2. The student is willing to ask questions when he/she doesn't understand.
  3. The student is polite and respectful to the teacher.

So teachers aren't that different from you: You want teachers to present information in an interesting way; teachers want you to be interested and engaged. You want teachers who treat you with respect; teachers want students who do the same.

Doing your best doesn't mean you have to get A's in every class. Teachers know that each student has different academic needs and abilities. One teacher told us, "A great student is someone who stays on task and has a lot to say about the subject!" In other words, being curious and excited to learn makes the classroom experience better for both you and your teacher.

Being curious means asking questions. If you don't understand something in class, raise your hand and ask. If you have a question, chances are other students are wondering the same thing but are too shy to ask. But what if you are the person who's too shy to ask in front of the class? See your teacher after class so you can go over things privately.

Teachers and students pretty much value the same things — with one big difference. Students want teachers to have a good sense of humor, but teachers don't feel the same way. Only 7% of teachers said that being funny is a good quality for students. That's probably because what students may think is funny might seem disruptive to teachers.

A New-School-Year Resolution

As you head back to school, think about how you can get along with your teachers. Even if you've had the same teachers before, think about what you expect from the class and the teacher.

If you love a particular subject or are good at it, you might find it easier to get along with the teachers who run those classes. But what about classes you don't like as much? How can the teachers help you? Start your school year by talking to the teacher about what you expect, and ask the teacher what you can do to be a better student.

It's easy to think you won't need your teachers again after you graduate, but your relationship with teachers might affect you for the rest of your life. Even if you never see teachers again after graduating, you may need them to write an admissions letter or be a job reference.

So make a new-school-year resolution to get along with your teachers, and have a successful school year!

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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