Think back to your school days and try to remember who your worst teacher was, and your best. What was the difference between them?
Sadly, many people have distinct memories of awful early education experiences. They remember teachers who seemingly made their school lives hell on earth. Maybe you had a teacher who obviously hated their job and treated students with contempt or disinterest. Maybe your teacher was simply incompetent, and only succeeded in confusing the class instead of illuminating the material. Classically bad teachers are known for being antagonistic to students, clinging to outdated or frankly disastrous teaching techniques, which then take the efforts of a better teacher to undo and correct.
For many students, a bad teacher is enough to completely kill any love for a subject, no matter how good the materials are and no matter how innately talented the student is in that area. So, while most teachers may begin with wondering how they can improve their students, we’ll start this chapter from a different perspective, and consider how teachers can make improvements where it really matters: in themselves.
John Hattie is a researcher deeply interested in what actually works when it comes to education. We’ll look more closely at his groundbreaking research and book Visible Teaching in a later chapter, but for now, we’ll take his approach of only considering teaching methods that are evidence-based. We’ve looked at the five broad pedagogical approaches, but Hattie wanted to quantify the effectiveness of the countless different techniques that each of these models inspired so that only the most effective could be used.
But over and above the techniques used, Hattie also claimed something you might already suspect to be true, i.e. that much of the variability in education, and the overall effectiveness of certain methods, comes down to the characteristics of the teacher and the teacher-student relationship. So, that’s where we’ll start.
The Six Characteristics of a Good Teacher
Hattie identified six main characteristics, and we’ll explore each of them in order of most to least impactful. The first quality might come as no surprise: it’s passion. This doesn’t need too much explanation. A good teacher wants to teach and loves what they do. What are they passionate about? Sure, being very interested in your chosen topic is great, and that enthusiasm is naturally contagious, but a great teacher is one who is passionate specifically about helping their students learn.