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Read the materials. Then consider your teaching practice and pinpoint two areas of strength (“glows”) and two areas in need of refinement (“grows”) related to your instruction and delivery skills. In other words, what do you do well, and what do you need to improve as related to your teaching?

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1. Insights into Teaching and Learning

3 take-aways are written clearly, concisely, and logically. The examples from reading, prior course work and practice (experience) are relevant and support the statements.

2. Goals for future practice (glow)

The 2 goals for the future practice (experience) are included. The 2 new areas for learning about teaching and student learning are identified. Using academic language or the language of the discipline clearly state your knowledge and understanding and provide rationale about your responses.

3. Goals for future practice (growth)

The 2 goals for the future practice (experience) are included. The 2 new areas for learning about teaching and student learning are identified. Using academic language or the language of the discipline clearly state your knowledge and understanding and provide rationale about your responses.

Twelve Characteristics
of an Effective Teacher

A Longitudinal, Qualitative, Quasi-Research Study
of In-service and Pre-service Teachers’ Opinions

by Robert J. Walker

For fifteen years, the presenter has engaged college students in dis-

cussions and writing assignments that pertain to the outstanding charac-
teristics of their most effective teachers—“effective” meaning that these
teachers made the most significant impact on their lives. Based on those
recurring themes, the conclusion is that effective teachers share at least
twelve clear characteristics. Those characteristics consistently affected
students in positive ways.

This article results from a longitudinal, qualitative, quasi-research
study of students in education, including in-service as well as pre-service
teachers. An out-of-class essay assignment asked this question: What
were the qualities of the most memorable teacher who encouraged
you to teach?

Participants and Courses Involved in the Study

This study utilized both traditional and nontraditional students the
author taught in the past fifteen years. The undergraduate stu-
dents (pre-service teachers) in the study were working toward

bachelor’s degrees in teaching and not actually teaching when they
wrote their essays. Most of the graduate students were in-service educa-
tion professionals who had returned to school for advanced degrees.

“Traditional” students were defined as on-campus students with
tuition support from parents or student loans. “Nontraditional” students
were defined as those living off campus and working or raising a family.


The students were enrolled in various courses, some held during the
day, others at night. The courses included Methods of Teaching Science;
Methods of Teaching Math; Methods of Teaching Social Studies;
Curriculum Development; Child Development; Introduction to Special
Education; Problems in the Elementary School; Educational Technology;
and Teaching in the Urban Setting.

More than one thousand students matriculated through these under-
graduate and graduate classes, held in the United States, Canada,
Bermuda, and the Caribbean. Several students from Africa participated.
The courses were taught at both predominately white and historically
black institutions, including two private colleges; three public universi-
ties; a junior college; and a technical college. The multiplicity of institu-
tions and courses over the years provided the study with a diverse
student population: young and old, black and white, Hispanic, those of
Asian nationality, males, and females. The students were mainly early
childhood majors, training to teach nursery to grade three (N–3); ele-
mentary education majors, training to teach kindergarten to sixth grade
(K–6); and secondary education majors, training to teach seventh to
twelfth grades (7–12) in specific subject areas such as physical educa-
tion, mathematics, science, history, and music. The elementary educa-
tion majors formed the largest contingent.

educational HORIZONS Fall 2008


Besides the undergraduate and graduate students, there were also
students working on alternative master’s degrees. Those students had
obtained bachelor’s degrees in other fields such as social work, psychol-
ogy, mathematics, and biology and later decided that they wanted to
teach. Some alternative master’s degree students were changing careers
after working in other professions. Many had already begun teaching
using emergency teaching certificates.

Definition of Terms
Effective described a particular teacher who had been the most suc-

cessful in helping respondents to learn.
Characteristics described a particular teacher’s special personal qual-

ities that the respondents felt had enabled the teachers to achieve success.

Research Instrument
During the first week of each course taught at the various institu-

tions (listed above in “Participants and Courses Involved in the Study”), I
assigned students an essay on their most memorable teachers: those who
had the greatest impact on their lives and who were most successful
(effective) in teaching the subject matter; the teachers they most wanted
to emulate and who might have had the greatest impact on their decision
to enter teaching. I asked the students to explain their selection of partic-
ular teachers by providing examples of how those teachers inspired them
and by describing special personal qualities or characteristics.

Data Analysis
Over the years, students described their favorite and most memo-

rable teachers with statements such as

• “She was always prepared.”
• “He was very positive.”
• “She had high expectations for me!”
• “She was the most creative teacher I have ever had!”
• “He was so fair!”
• “I liked her personal touch!”
• “I felt that I was a part of the class.”
• “She showed me compassion when my mother died.”
• “He was so funny!” . . . “She taught her class in a fun way.”
• “I was never bored in his class.”
• “He gave all the students respect and never embarrassed me in front

of the class.”
• “She did not hold what I did against me!”

Twelve Characteristics of an Effective Teacher


• “He was the first teacher I had who admitted that he had made a

• “She apologized to me.”

Semester after semester, year after year, a common theme emerged
in the essays and class discussions of what makes a good teacher: stu-
dents emphasized the personal (qualitative) traits of memorable teach-
ers rather than academic (quantitative) qualifications. Students seldom
mentioned where teachers attended school, what degrees they held, or
whether they had been named a “Teacher of the Year.” Instead, students
focused on these teachers’ nurturing and caring qualities.

For fifteen years, I listened closely to class discussions about memo-
rable teachers and read compositions on the topic, and in later years I
retained copies of their essays as qualitative data. The student essays
pointed to several personality traits prevalent among their favorite and
most memorable teachers. Such teachers

• came to class prepared
• maintained positive attitudes about teaching and about students
• held high expectations for all students
• showed creativity in teaching the class
• treated and graded students fairly
• displayed a personal, approachable touch with students
• cultivated a sense of belonging in the classroom
• dealt with student problems compassionately
• had a sense of humor and did not take everything seriously
• respected students and did not deliberately embarrass them
• were forgiving and did not hold grudges
• admitted mistakes

The essays, combined with pre- and post-class discussions of the

assignment, led me to formulate twelve identifiable personal and profes-
sional characteristics of effective teachers:

Characteristic 1: Prepared
The most effective teachers come to class each day ready to teach.

1. It is easy to learn in their classes because they are ready for the day.
2. They don’t waste instructional time. They start class on time. They

teach for the entire class period.
3. Time flies in their classes because students are engaged in learn-

ing—i.e., not bored, less likely to fall asleep.

educational HORIZONS Fall 2008


Characteristic 2: Positive
The most effective teachers have optimistic attitudes about teaching

and about students. They
1. See the glass as half full (look on the positive side of every situation)
2. Make themselves available to students
3. Communicate with students about their progress
4. Give praise and recognition
5. Have strategies to help students act positively toward one another

Characteristic 3: Hold High Expectations
The most effective teachers set no limits on students and believe

everyone can be successful. They
1. Hold the highest standards
2. Consistently challenge their students to do their best
3. Build students’ confidence and teach them to believe in themselves

Characteristic 4: Creative
The most effective teachers are resourceful and inventive in how

they teach their classes. They
1. Kiss a pig if the class reaches its academic goals
2. Wear a clown suit
3. Agree to participate in the school talent show
4. Use technology effectively in the classroom

Characteristic 5: Fair
The most effective teachers handle students and grading fairly. They

1. Allow all students equal opportunities and privileges
2. Provide clear requirements for the class
3. Recognize that “fair” doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone

the same but means giving every student an opportunity to succeed
4. Understand that not all students learn in the same way and at the

same rate

Characteristic 6: Display a Personal Touch
The most effective teachers are approachable. They

1. Connect with students personally
2. Share personal experiences with their classes
3. Take personal interest in students and find out as much as possible

about them
4. Visit the students’ world (sit with them in the cafeteria; attend

sporting events, plays, and other events outside normal school

Twelve Characteristics of an Effective Teacher


Characteristic 7: Cultivate a Sense of Belonging
The most effective teachers have a way of making students feel wel-

come and comfortable in their classrooms.
1. Students repeatedly mentioned that they felt as though they

belonged in classrooms taught by effective teachers.
2. The students knew they had a good teacher who loved teaching

and preferred it to other occupations.

Characteristic 8: Compassionate
The most effective teachers are concerned about students’ personal

problems and can relate to them and their problems. Numerous stories
established how the sensitivity and compassion of caring teachers
affected them in profound and lasting ways.

Characteristic 9: Have a Sense of Humor
The most effective teachers do not take everything seriously and

make learning fun. They
1. Use humor to break the ice in difficult situations
2. Bring humor into the everyday classroom
3. Laugh with the class (but not at the expense of any particular


Characteristic 10: Respect Students
The most effective teachers do not deliberately embarrass students.

Teachers who give the highest respect, get the highest respect. They
1. Respect students’ privacy when returning test papers
2. Speak to students in private concerning grades or conduct
3. Show sensitivity to feelings and consistently avoid situations that

unnecessarily embarrass students

Characteristic 11: Forgiving
The most effective teachers do not hold grudges. They

1. Forgive students for inappropriate behavior
2. Habitually start each day with a clean slate
3. Understand that a forgiving attitude is essential to reaching diffi-

cult students
4. Understand that disruptive or antisocial behavior can quickly turn

a teacher against a student, but that refusing to give up on difficult
students can produce success

Characteristic 12: Admit Mistakes
The most effective teachers are quick to admit being wrong. They

1. Apologize to mistakenly accused students

educational HORIZONS Fall 2008


2. Make adjustments when students point out errors in grading or
test material that has not been assigned

The findings of this study were drawn from essays of college stu-

dents majoring in education. Students also read their essays and dis-
cussed their most memorable teachers in class, where they shared their
opinions about effective teaching. They identified twelve characteristics
of an effective teacher and in turn committed themselves to becoming
effective teachers themselves.

It is my hope that educators will recognize the validity of these
twelve characteristics of an effective teacher and will seek to adopt
them as their own.

Further Reading on the Twelve Characteristics

1. Prepared
Renard, Lisa. “What to Do! What to Do!” ASCD’s Classroom Leadership Online, Vol.

2, No. 8. 1999. 1 page.
Wong, Harry K., and Rosemary T. Wong. How to Be an Effective Teacher: The First Days

of School. Mountain View, Calif.: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2001. 338 pages.

2. Positive
Haynes, Judie. “Creating an Atmosphere of Acceptance,”

. 1998–2004.

2 pages.

3. Hold High Expectations
Gazin, Ann. “What Do You Expect?” Instructor, 2004.

4. Creative
Baltz, Pann. “Creativity in the Classroom: An Exploration,” 2003.
Manzo, Anthony, and Ula Manzo. Teaching Children to Be Literate: A Reflective

Approach. Instructional Elements for Fostering Higher-Order Thinking in the
Classroom. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1995.

5. Fair
Paul, David. “Getting Down to Basics: Gaining Respect from Children in the

Classroom.” Daily Yomiuri, 2002. 2 pages.
Salzmann, Mary E. I Am Fair. Edina, Minn.: SandCastle, 2002.

6. Display a Personal Touch
Sadker, Myra, and David Sadker. In “Classroom Tips for Non-Sexist, Non-Racist

Teaching.” Teachers, Schools & Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.

7. Cultivate a Sense of Belonging
Brick, Madeline. “Increase Students’ Sense of Belonging with Responsive Classroom

Philosophy: An Interview with Madeline.” Curriculum Review, 2002. 1 page.
Smith, Denise. “Inclusion Education.” Fuerstenau Early Childhood Center, 2004.

2 pages.

Twelve Characteristics of an Effective Teacher


8. Compassionate
Raatma, Lucia. Caring. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2000. 24 pages.

9. Have a Sense of Humor
Girdlefanny, Snotty. “Using Humor in the Classroom.” Techniques, 2005. 4 pages.
Lipman, Larry. “Humor and Fun in Team Building and the Classroom.” Fun Team

Building, 2004. 2 pages.

10. Respect Students
Court TV. “Respecting Young Adolescents.” A Teacher’s Guide: Working with Young

Adolescents, 2005. 2 pages.
Sleigh, Merry J., and Darren R. Ritzer. “Encouraging Student Attendance.” APS

Observer, Vol. 14, No. 9. 2001. 1 page.

11. Forgiving
Sams, Tim. “The Art of Forgiveness,” , 2004.

2 pages.
Wright, Rusty. “Forgiveness Can Be Good for Your Health,”

docs/forgive.html>, 2000. 2 pages.

12. Admit Mistakes
Costa, Arthur L., and Bena Kallick. “Remaining Open to Continuous Learning,”

, 2004. 12 pages.
Walters, Stephanie. “What Do I Do When I Realize I’ve Made a Mistake with a Child?”

2004. 2 pages.

Robert J. Walker, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the College of
Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, at Alabama
State University.

educational HORIZONS Fall 2008


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