What makes a good teacher?

TES Institute Team

23rd May 2016 at 11:45

What makes a good teacher? Useful tips & resources

There’s no doubt about it: teaching is hard work. Some teachers are able to rise above it to deliver consistently great lessons, forging strong relationships with colleagues and pupils alike. Others struggle in their role and only seem to do the bare minimum. What makes a good teacher? While the answer may vary depending on one’s learning style, there are certain qualities of a good teacher which ring true.

Knowledge of subject matter

One of the first characteristics of a good teacher is a keen interest in their subject matter. When a teacher has a love for his or her subject, it shines through. This helps inspire interest in students, who pick up this enthusiasm. Think about it: knowledgeable teachers also have a wider bank of subject material to turn to in order to tailor the lesson to their individual students. Good teachers not only work with their existing knowledge, but strive to stay on top of the latest research in their field. This helps them make the subject come alive for pupils.

You can boost your own subject knowledge by taking an online CPD course. Another option is to use social media to stay on top of the latest trends – check what’s trending on Twitter using subject-specific hashtags like #mathchat or #asechat. If you’re just starting out, try visiting the new teacher chat or #ntchat.

Classroom Skills

Enthusiasm alone isn’t enough to make someone a good teacher. Good teachers also have the training necessary to deliver lessons in the most effective manner. They should know the ins and outs of classroom resources, know how to mark student work, be able to write up accurate reports, and know how to deal with disciplinary issues. An effective teacher tries to spark discussion, framing facts in such a way as to lead their students to look at the issue from all sides. This includes engaging the whole class, not just the most talkative pupils.

Try looking at this list of teaching resources to learn more about classroom management.

High expectations for students

A great teacher sets high expectations in the classrooms to help students reach their full potential. They set standards of mutual respect, so that pupils know that substandard work or behaviour will be noticed and responded to. Good teachers believe that every student has the ability to learn, and are willing to push them to do their best.

Excellent planning skills

Effective teaching involves a great deal of planning and organisation. Good teachers put in the effort to prepare their lessons thoroughly. Lesson planning helps manage student expectations, so that they know exactly what their obligations are. The grading policy should be clear, as should assignments and objectives. Part of what makes a good teacher is the ability to stay organised, maintaining accurate records and keeping track of individual student strengths and weaknesses. Clear expectations help keep the whole classroom stay on task.

Here are some primary and secondary lesson plans for download to help you get started. It’s also useful to brush up on the National Curriculum every now and again.

Create a sense of community

It’s not all stuffy paperwork, rules, and task lists. Desirable qualities of a teacher also include the ability to form strong relationships with their students. Teachers are often warm, caring, and open individuals, who help students feel comfortable in the classroom. Students should feel safe to share their ideas in a supportive learning environment. What distinguishes mediocre teachers from good ones is the ability to create this sense of belonging.

Social media is once again a useful tool for teachers looking for ways to bond with students. Check out Pinterest for morale-boosting activities, or ask for ideas via Twitter.


No two days are the same in teaching, and students can be unpredictable. If a lesson isn’t working, or there is a disciplinary problem, a good teacher is able to shift gears when necessary. Flexibility is one of the major characteristics of good teachers.

Communication Skills

There’s a great deal of communication involved with effective teaching. Part of what makes a good teacher stand out is the ability to get messages across in lessons. However, the best teachers also are able to spark connections with students on a personal level. They must be able to communicate regularly with parents, with conferences and written reports alike. If there are problems in the classroom, a good teacher will reach out to the parents by phone or email to discuss the issues. A good teacher has a collaborative spirit, working effectively with colleagues and taking on suggestion or criticism.

Any good teacher training course will put a strong emphasis on communication. This Interpersonal Communication Skills Test from Psychology Today is also a good jumping-off point to learn more about your own communication style.  

Some of these qualities come naturally to educators, but there are always areas for improvement. Teaching can be seen as a series of moving targets. Overall, a good teacher is one who is a lifelong learner.