Tips for First-Year Teachers: 5 Characteristics Great Teachers Have in Common

You did it! You landed your first teaching job! Your dream of working with kids is about to begin. If you are like me, you are filled with excitement and anxiety all at once. Will the kids like me? Will they listen to me? Will they respect me? Will I like them? Have I made the right decision? This is all normal. Being a teacher is one of the most influential professions you could ever have. How many times have you heard someone tell you about that one teacher that made a big difference in his or her life? Without that teacher, who knows how things would have turned out. You never hear, “Man, that plumber that fixed our toilet really got me back on the right path.” You have the opportunity to inspire young minds towards greatness! How exciting! So, if you are ready to become the next Erin Gruwell, inspiring your own Freedom Writers, here are 5 characteristics great teachers have in common.

1. Be a Lifelong Learner

Great teachers are students themselves. They never stop improving their craft. If you want to be the best teacher you can be, never stop learning. You want your students to enjoy your class, right? Be the example. Read books on best practices. Attend workshops. Go back to school and take classes. Get your master’s degree… you’ll be smarter and make more money. Win-win.

2. Be Passionate about Teaching

Here’s a shocker – great teachers love what they do! They are passionate about their subject and helping their students succeed. Kids are smart. They know when your heart is in it and when you are just collecting a paycheck. If you are passionate about your subject, it will be infectious.  Honestly, the “crazier” you are about what you teach, the better!

It’s also important that students know you care about them, not just as students but human beings as well. A friend of mine went through a difficult time when he was a senior in high school. He was failing a couple of classes to the point where he might not graduate on time. One of his teachers always showed an interest in him. It was because of her, he recalls, that he was able to graduate on time. He has never forgotten her and is forever grateful that she took the time to help him.


3. Be Creative

Great teachers don’t just lecture, they get creative. They think outside the box. Every one of us has talents. Use them! I’ve seen teachers create songs using popular songs on the radio. Check out this adorable clip on YouTube, JuJu on that Beat Morning Song. Others invent games their students can play to reinforce the concepts they are learning in class. Invite guest speakers. Educational scavenger hunts and school premises field trips are a lot fun as well. One year I was teaching about the lifecycle of the butterfly and ordered some caterpillars online. It was amazing to see the transformation these little creatures went through right in our very own classroom.


4. Be Organized and Clear

It’s no secret that great teachers plan ahead. There’s an old saying, “measure twice, cut once.” If you have ever tried to renovate your home, you might have learned this the hard way. Once you make that initial cut, it can’t be undone, but by taking the extra time to measure the object twice, you ensure greater success in completing your project.

Same goes with teaching. Be organized. Be clear in your expectations. Students at all times should know what they can and can not do. Great teachers will also effectively communicate the topics they are covering. Think about the lesson you are going to teach. Try to anticipate possible pitfalls for students. Where might they get stuck? Great teachers also know how to relate their subject to real-life situations. Sometimes the “why” is just as important as the “how”. This is especially true with math, particularly high school math. How often have we heard, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?” Those students were taught the “how”, but not the “why”. If you can create connections between your lessons and real-life situations, you increase the probability that your students will retain the concepts you taught them.


5. Have a Sense of Humor

Great teachers have a sense of humor. Humor can effectively engage students towards active learning. You will be more approachable and able to set your students at ease. Throw in a good pun. Tell a good story. Make fun of yourself. You don’t have to overdo it either. Humor has its time and place, but the point is it opens up greater possibilities of learning for you students.



Good luck and happy teaching!

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