Great Teachers have Common Traits

As everyone heads back to begin the new school year, and as I resume my work on The Teacher Beacon, I thought that this would be an ideal time to share something special with you.

A compelling study done over a nine-month period ending earlier this year revealed some intriguing things about successful teachers.

As you know, we’ve all had them.

They’re part of who we are, the teachers in our lives who motivated us to be better human beings.

Some of them stretched us so far that we might have thought ill of them at times.  But in the end, they were the ones we called our favorites, the ones who stood out because they helped us overcome challenges and inspired our intellectual curiosity.

Is there an X-factor that makes a teacher extraordinary?  Is there a special formula that teachers use to move students academically–and on to bigger futures?

Suzanna P. Barton, editor of the Resident Community News Group, and WJCT education reporter Cyd Hoskinson interviewed successful public school educators through a grant from The Community Foundations Philanthropic Initiative.

Each might use unique techniques–a conga line to teach division, for example– but together their love of teaching is potent and contagious.

Here are some of the common traits (in the order that the researchers listed them) that great teachers share on education’s front lines.

Trait 1: Teaching Is a ‘Calling’

Laureen Martin, a fourth-grade reading and writing teacher from Pinedale Elementary School and one of the five 2012 Teacher of the Year finalist for Duval County, originally tried to run from her calling.  But in an interview with a Teach for America representative during her senior year at the University of Florida guided her back.

“When I was in college as a political science and public policy major, a TFA recruiter asked me the question, ‘What are you really going to do out of college that will really make an impact?’And I wasn’t sure how to answer that question.”  Martin said. “So she said, ‘Why don’t you consider teaching?’ My mom and my grandfather had been in the education business for a very long time.  And despite my struggles to be the different one in the family.  I felt it was my calling.  It was put on my heart.”

Trait 2: They Take Responsibility for Their Students’ Success

A fourth-grade reading and writing teacher from Windy Hill Elementary School, Chris Bacca says his students’ achievement begins and ends with him.

“It’s me starting at seven o’clock every morning for a lot of my kids,” Bacca said.  “It did me ending at six o’clock at night for some of my kids.  It’s me on Saturdays.  It’s me all day long.  And I can’t put the burden of that child’s success on someone else when I know that it’s me all day long.  So it’s a burden I shoulder proudly.  I want to know that I have done right by that child.  They deserve that for me.  That’s my job.”

Edward Moore teaches seventh-grade language arts at Northwestern Middle School.  When he looks at the kids in his classroom, he imagines them as extensions of his own children.  He wants his kids to have a great future–and to do what he can to give his children what a father would give them: “That’s my all.”

“Facilitation is my role in the classroom.  But beyond the classroom–and even within the classroom–a teacher wears many hats,” Moore said.  “You become a counselor, a father figure–a parent.  A lot of my students will refer to me as Daddy Moore.  It’s funny at first, but then you realize they really see you as their father figure, which makes you have to be more accountable.”

Coming Tuesday: Three More Traits Shared by Successful Teachers