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What makes a teacher great?

I’m a retired teacher, and in many ways I could have been better. In my time at schools, I have met some really exceptional teachers and have tried to learn from them, but the best teachers seem to have a true “gift”. Many good teaching practices can be learned, but a special blend of personality, authority, values, and knowledge of subject matter produces an outstanding educator.

Making students want to learn, and enabling them through a variety of methods to be successful, is the magic key. At the last school I taught in, there was such a teacher of middle school math who had that ability. I don’t think I ever heard her raise her voice with students, or show frustration or irritation because they found it difficult to grasp a concept. She always made them feel they could succeed, and they believed her. It’s rare to have a group of students who across the board say they like math, but that was the case with students of this teacher. And the results on standardized testing showed the students scoring above other schools in the area.

I always wanted to know her secret, to be able to duplicate her results in my own classroom and subject — but I didn’t have the “magic”. She was (is still) a great member of the teaching staff, making other teachers feel good about educating young people, always having a positive attitude, and helping other teachers in whatever ways she can.

I’ve learned there are a lot of good teachers out there with a love of children and education. They tend to work hard at what they do and have a vocation. I can assure you, it would be hard to last long at teaching without those qualities — and a good sense of humor!

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