The impact a good teacher can have on just one student has the potential to ripple outward. By setting students up for success, teachers benefit individuals, families, and communities. Subject matter mastery is an essential element of good teaching, but truly effective teachers help students develop a love of learning. They also guide young people as they discover the passions and abilities that make them responsible citizens and future innovators. Recognizing the weight of this responsibility is what sets good teachers apart. They understand and care about their impact on students’ lives.
Pedagogy makes up the bulk of the curriculum in most teacher training programs, which makes sense. Middle and high school teachers must know the ins and outs of the subject they teach and how to manage a classroom of adolescents. Elementary school teachers must stay current on best practices in early childhood education. On top of phonics and basic math, they are responsible for teaching students crucial life skills like sharing, tying shoelaces, and communicating.
However, the qualities that good teachers share are seldom prioritized in teacher education programs. Aspiring teachers who ace the academic training required to enter the profession may still wonder whether they will excel in their careers. This article poses eight questions anyone considering enrolling in a teacher training program like the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency can use to answer the question, “Would I be a good teacher?” before they enter the classroom.
Do you love helping others?
Good teachers don’t force students to learn using strict discipline and rote memorization. They utilize strategies that guide students through the learning process – a good teacher teaches students how to learn. Teachers provide the resources students need for success and a defined pathway to competency.
Many teachers enter the profession with an established love of helping others. They may have discovered this passion early, when caring for younger siblings, or later, while parenting or caring for other family members. This desire to support and assist others drives good teachers. NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency alum Lorraine Zhon, for example, was drawn to teaching by her desire to help young people who shared her background excel.
“In an urban community, there are many societal pressures and stereotypes placed on students based on various factors of their identity such as ethnicity and gender,” she said. “I am inspired to use my position in teaching to motivate and encourage students to pursue their true interests and challenge societal norms.”
Are you compassionate?
The ability to see from someone else’s point of view is an integral element of good teaching. Responding to student behavior can be challenging at every grade level because students tend to act out their emotions. Younger pupils may cry or be unable to sit still when frustrated, while older students react with anger or by withdrawing.
A good teacher recognizes that so-called negative behaviors are often developmentally appropriate and largely beyond a student’s control. Rather than responding with frustration, a good teacher listens and adapts. “Sometimes, compassion means responding with understanding and care to undesirable patterns of behavior,” writes Carla Tischio for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Compassion doesn’t mean excusing shoddy work or bad behavior. It means assessing each student’s challenges to develop new methods of reaching and teaching. Good teachers are also skilled at fostering their students’ strengths during periods of change. For example, compassion-based teaching responses to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic – including implementing deadline flexibility and finding alternatives to monitored exams – alleviated stress among students and made remote learning more enjoyable.
Are you even-tempered?
Every teacher experiences good and bad days. On the bad days – when students act out, there are external disruptions, or lesson plans do not go as planned – even the best teachers can find their patience running thin. Students are still developing their social skills and will sometimes look for ways to get a reaction. The ability to weather frustration while keeping an even temper is a hallmark of good teachers. Having a healthy sense of humor helps, too.
Unrealistic expectations from parents, administrators, and school boards can also be a source of frustration. Teaching is notoriously a thankless job. Public school teachers face increasing levels of stress and often do not receive adequate recognition for their contributions. Even so, maintaining a calm demeanor in front of students is part of the job.
Are you an effective motivator?
Most people can think of a teacher who impacted their lives. The reason this teacher stands out is often not because of their comprehensive lesson plans or engaging lectures but because of the way they interact with their students. The best teachers draw in students by helping them see why a subject is essential and how the material is applicable in life beyond the classroom.
Effective motivators ensure students feel supported and help them overcome fear of failure. Good motivators also know how to turn student doubt into opportunities for success. If you have excelled in a leadership position and found that you are good at motivating others, you already have an essential teaching skill.
You can further develop this skill in a teaching program that combines pedagogy with hands-on classroom immersion. The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency Secondary Education curriculum includes a module called “How do I build a culture of achievement for students and myself?” that develops a more complex understanding of teaching methodologies and classroom management.
Do you have good communication skills?
All of teaching boils down to effective communication. Teachers rely on lectures, exercises, project work, and one-on-one tutoring to share complicated ideas clearly and concisely. Good teachers find new ways to communicate the same concepts when a student doesn’t understand a lesson.
Teachers share more than just facts. They also clarify their expectations for success in the classroom and communicate course objectives, assignment requirements, and due dates. Feedback must be clear and consistent, and teachers should be able to answer questions about why grades change. Good teachers also interface well with parents and administrators. Good teachers help parents understand that they are on the same team and offer guidance based on their expertise.
Are you open-minded?
Students come from many cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and may grow up having very different experiences. They have a range of interests, and their personalities are unique. Good teachers see their students as individuals who are deserving of the same opportunities. They don’t express judgment.
The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency prioritizes diversity, representation, community, and cultural acceptance throughout the program. In course work and immersions, faculty and mentors help teacher residents recognize their biases, nurture their strengths, and develop the knowledge needed to serve all students of all backgrounds and instructional needs, including those requiring special education.
NYU Steinhardt teacher residents spend time in the communities in which their students live to understand the children’s perspectives. They also participate in community outreach. “It’s vital that emerging teachers learn who their students are, the funds of knowledge that they bring to the classroom, who is part of the community, and what the community offers in terms of resources,” said Diana Turk, chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning and director of teacher education at NYU Steinhardt.
Are you organized?
When you become a teacher, you must be the most organized person in the room. Students will falter if a teacher misplaces documents, loses track of assignments, or gets too far behind schedule. There are state learning standards to keep up with – teachers may be responsible for meeting regular student performance targets. Good teachers create plans that keep their classrooms on track to meet various goals. They often have a natural aptitude for organization and self-discipline, but both can be honed in a teacher training program.
Are you flexible?
Good teachers change course as needed (e.g., by adapting lesson plans to align with different learning styles or updating their classroom materials as a subject evolves). During the COVID-19 pandemic, educators had to pivot every time they received new guidelines from their districts or states enacted new safety protocols. Additionally, teachers and administrators had to figure out how to connect virtually with all students – many of whom might not have had reliable Wi-Fi or connected devices at home.
A Brookings Institution study looking at adaptive innovation in education followed one digital literacy program in Kenya as a case study. When schools closed due to the pandemic and students had limited computer access, teachers used WhatsApp and visited students’ homes to deliver instructional materials. These efforts had positive effects beyond access to education – families were more engaged, and teachers received insight into their students’ lives. This may be an extreme example of teacher flexibility, but it demonstrates the impact teachers can have when they respond creatively to disruption.
Experience and knowledge produce good teachers
Answering the question,”’Would I be a good teacher?” is the first step in a journey defined by ongoing professional development. Effective teachers learn as they go. If you haven’t ever taught in a classroom and don’t feel prepared to lead one, that’s not a crisis of confidence. It’s a response to your own understanding of what you don’t know. That’s why NYU Steinhardt uses a gradual release model of teacher training in which teachers in training only take on as much responsibility as they’re ready to handle.
NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency alum Robbie Marshall came away from his classroom experience with valuable insight into what makes a good teacher – particularly in the middle grades. “With middle school students, they are still learning how to interact with each other and other adults,” he said. “I learned that I have to give them time and space to figure things out. And I have to be very patient. Some students are going to need more than others.”
Teacher residencies are so effective because they mentor aspiring educators through their first forays into the classroom. Full-day residents with the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency accumulate more than 1,400 hours of classroom experience before the program is over. Half-day residents spend more than 600 hours in the classroom. Residents graduate from the program with not only a master of arts in teaching but also a deeper understanding of the qualities and competencies that allow teachers to change their students’ lives.
The NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency is open to college graduates with bachelor’s degrees in fields outside education. For more information about admissions requirements, contact an NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency enrollment advisor.