Great Teachers


A recent article in the Atlantic, What Makes a Great Teacher, is a bit of a long read, but contains some excellent information. What makes a great teacher? Teach for America mines years of experience and on one of the broadest sets of data ever on the subject to propose the common characteristics of successful teachers.

Here’s my synthesis of their results (for those with short attention spans/time):

Great teachers:

  • tended to set big goals for their students
  • are perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness
  • avidly recruited students and their families into the process
  • maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning
  • planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome
  • worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls
  • Were ones who were able to demonstrate perseverance in their lives: that they were consistently able to overcome adversity
  • Teachers who scored high on “life satisfaction” were greatly more successful at eliciting learning
  • Grade point average during  college and “leadership achievement” were also strong indicators of success in the classroom


  • A master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness
  • Getting straight A’s all through college was not nearly as good an indicator of effective teaching as starting out with a lower GPA but then bringing it up significantly over the final two years of college (see overcoming adversity, above)
  • In the Teach for America training program “the challenge is not to pick the perfect teacher but to diagnose strengths and weaknesses early and provide intense, customized training to correct them.” (My note:  Same for students, no?)

This raises a couple of big questions for me:

What are the behavioral manifestations, in the classroom, of these exceptional teachers?
What are the characteristics of successful students, and how do we develop those skills and habits in all students?

If anyone is out there reading, please share your thoughts.

Published by Aaron Eden

What's your Give? I think that is a critical question in everything we do. What value are we creating? The core of my work is educating for a sustainable future. Value-oriented learning. Community-integrated learning. Social entrepreneurship. Emergent, inquiry-driven, entrepreneurial learning. I've spent the last 20 years designing and facilitating face-to-face and online learning experiences and co-creative processes that help individuals and organizations develop the skills and attributes to transform themselves and the world. I have extensive experience in instructional and learning experience design, innovation, and technology spaces.

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