When we reflect on our own time at school, whether we loved or hated it, somehow we all had a favorite teacher; a teacher whose class we looked forward to, who connected with us on some level, who laughed with us, whose guidance made a difference and made us feel better about ourselves or what we were learning, who made school enjoyable and whom we still remember to this day. What was it that made those teachers so special? Was it the level of their post-secondary education? Was it their profound knowledge of all things Chemistry, Biology or History related? Probably not.
Some experts have dedicated their careers to deciphering what it is that makes some teachers unique, motivated, and, to put it simply, excellent. Within the Global Education and Skills Forum Alliances, the Teacher Alliance set out to find out what that was. A group of us worked to identify how education, and teachers, “can change the world”. We believe the key to an equitable quality education is access to a high quality teacher.
So what is it that makes excellent teachers excellent and in specific what are the qualities and traits that make teachers effective with children from disadvantaged backgrounds? How do you identify and attract the best teachers to your school? How do you keep them motivated? How can you help in developing excellent teachers? To answer these and other questions, we conducted surveys and interviews with teachers from the Varkey Teacher Ambassador community.
Some of the main findings of the Alliance on Education’s report point to teachers having genuine love and care for the students. Effective teachers find inspiration and motivation from the children themselves. The qualities that were most dominant across effective teachers were compassion, kindness, patience, empathy and perseverance. They build relationships with their students. They believe education is the key to transforming lives, communities and societies.
Apart from beliefs and perceptions, effective teachers are adaptive; they learn to teach each child as a separate learner and entity; individualizing the learning experiences of children, they adapt to the growth and development occurring in terms of technology, new pedagogical approaches, and different styles of teaching. They reflect on their teaching practices and their students’ outcomes, and they learn to adapt according to their observations. Even when facing challenges, these teachers can do just that: adapt and move past the problems they face.
Our findings were that teachers working with disadvantaged children face several challenges, as does any teacher (or working professional for that matter!) They may not have the resources needed to support their students, which may be something as simple as a pencil and paper, but they very importantly address the socio-emotional needs of those students facing hardships and, even in the face of such adversity, these teachers rise, and teach their students to rise, to smile, and to learn.
The Teacher Alliance report highlighted several important factors that should be considered when identifying who will make the best teacher, who will form the best bonds with children and teach them most effectively, and what it is that makes our favorite teachers our favorites. These are things beyond qualifications; Teachers’ soft, interpersonal skills, their motivation and the intrinsic and genuine passion they have for their students and for teaching.