Three qualities of great teachers

How’s your school year going? Whether your kids are homeschooling, distance-learning, or doing some form of hybrid schooling, chances are you’ll be teaching your children to some extent. By default parents are teachers, especially in these uncertain times. So today, I’d like to share a little pedagogy with you, because after all, your teaching style is far more important than the curriculum you use and the plans you make.

We’ve all had some outstanding teachers and some not-so-great teachers. Have you ever stopped to think what made your great teachers great? Have you ever considered how you can be more effective and motivating as a parent-teacher? Here are three qualities of great teachers:

1. Great teachers study their students. They make a concerted effort to understand their students as best they can. Maria Montessori, for example, placed great emphasis on the importance of observing students. In The Absorbent Mind, she writes, “Even when helping and serving the children, she (the teacher) must not cease to observe them.”

In fact, many Montessori teachers spend hundreds of hours actively observing children as part of their training. We, as parents, should look for opportunities to observe our kids closely in order to better understand them.

So what do you look for? Try to understand your children’s learning styles and temperaments. Observe what motivates and interests them. Discover your children’s natural strengths and how you can leverage them. Take note of their weaknesses and find ways to help them overcome these tendencies. The best teachers know that they are not just teaching subjects, they are teaching people.

2. Great teachers exude enthusiasm. They have passion for their subject matter which they share with their students. One of my favorite teachers was my high school biology teacher. He LOVED biology and could barely contain his fascination over every topic we studied. Each day he would end the class saying, “Tomorrow is going to be great. We’ll learn about x. I can’t wait to tell you about it!” And I’d leave each class excited for the next one.

My mother-in-law was a math teacher in Brooklyn, NY for twenty years. She still thinks calculus is fun. When my boys call her for math help, there’s an eagerness in her voice that exclaims, “Goody! We get to do math!”. Consequently, my boys enjoy math.

Children naturally have a sense of wonder, and they are innate learners. You may not like every subject you need to teach your kids, but your attitude speaks volume. So when it comes to being enthusiastic about a subject, fake it ’till you make it. With our enthusiasm, we can preserve and nurture their sense of wonder and help them become life-long learners.

3. Great teachers capture their student’s interest and attention. They try to make their lessons as memorable as possible by being engaging, humorous, and personable. Sometimes this even involves a bit of acting. In the process, they forget themselves and think only of their students.

I have wonderful memories of my piano teacher from graduate school, a renowned concert pianist and a highly sought-after teacher. Normally, he was relaxed and mellow. But sometimes he would dance around the room, singing and clapping to help a student capture the spirit of a piece.

My daughter’s history teacher is a very quiet and gentle lady. But when she lectures, she is charged with energy and becomes very animated. She is so engaging that when distance learning began, even my husband and other parents watched her lectures.

Great teachers do what it takes to captivate their students’ interest and attention. This doesn’t mean that we, as parents, need to put on a dog and pony show every time we help our kids with their school work. But it does mean that we should be willing to get out of our comfort zone, to expend a little extra energy and creativity, and to use a bit of humor when we’re working with our kids.

So as you teach your kids, think about the qualities that make for great teachers: They study their students, exude enthusiasm, and capture their student’s interest.

Trying to improve in just one of these areas will help you a become better teacher and make your homeschool a happier place. Happy teaching!


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