What Makes a Great Teacher
I think we all have a story of a teacher who was especially kind to us growing up, or who went that extra mile to help us or make us feel better on a less than wonderful day. When I hire a new teacher, I want to find that one teacher who will make a difference and recognizes the importance and impact our interactions have on our children.
What makes a teacher stand out as great? And as the director of a private school who selects teachers, what do I look for? I start with the philosophy that when we create the right environment, learning and social relationships will take place. In our small, private school, I start with what the children need as a foundation to learn academically and thrive socially: they have to feel comfortable and grounded, and they need to feel honored for who they are individually, and that differences are accepted and encouraged. We want to create an environment where children feel free to take risks and comfortable making mistakes. “Mistakes are great” is a common phrase heard throughout our school. The goal in the early years needs to be creating that environment for every child.
So when a candidate walks into my office, I am looking for someone who is passionate about being in the field of early childhood education. I have learned that teachers who are interested in growing and learning about best practices in the field are also willing to go that extra mile for each child – they are continuously looking to improve how we care for every child and their family. I am also looking for positive interactions – with other team members and especially with children.
As adults, we ask our children to be trustworthy and respectful and to communicate in a calm manner. These are the same traits we want in our great teachers. They are the role models – they need to encourage children in their classroom to feel comfortable and confident, to be able to stand up for what’s right. A great teacher creates and communicates clear routines and expectations for children, which provides comfort and security in what is happening and what is to come.
Teachers who work with older children, like in an afterschool program, need the same interest and enthusiasm for learning and being around children and helping them grow. There do seem to be unique teachers for younger and older children – each age group has that unique set of needs, and the right teacher “gets” children at that age.
Great teachers are out there – and they make a difference in our children’s lives. As an educator, my job is to find them, support them, and keep them as part of our community.