What makes a good teacher?

A new article from the Chronicle of Higher Education addresses some of the most important characteristics of what makes a good teacher, and surprise surprise, being a top scientist in your field doesn’t even make the list. Being an amazing researcher and being an amazing teacher are not synonymous. It’s true that both require a lot of time, practice, and experience, but more often than not, they require different investments and those related to teaching are often overlooked and forgotten.

So, what is important to being a good teacher? The article addresses the following key characteristics: enthusiasm, charisma, a capacity to clarify and make sense, humor, kindness, and a genuine interest in students’ progress.

Perhaps the characteristic that most struck me was the comment that “Good teachers are those who remember being a student.” I couldn’t agree more. I’d restate why this is important, but the article hits the nail so succinctly on the head that I dare not rephrase it –

“They hear themselves as their students hear them. They know which aspects of their subject might present a difficulty, which require to be grasped before which, and what their best students will be keen to know, and why. A sense of how the constituents of a subject hang together, so that one knows the best order of their presentation, is something that being on the receiving end of both good and bad teaching helps one to acquire.”

So, next time you are contemplating your teaching style and how you improve it, the best first step forward might be to look into the past and reminisce about the challenges you faced in your own education and how your most memorable teachers helped you overcome and conquer these roadblocks.

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