Susan Allred

Whether they were teaching in the 1960s or in the 2000s, effective teachers share a common set of characteristics.

One of the joys of retirement is having the time to reflect on our profession. Looking back over the 37 years I spent as an educator—20 of them as a teacher and 17 as an administrator—and reflecting on my own schooling as well, I think of the many highly effective teachers I’ve known. Spanning all grade levels, they engaged students in learning to the point of excitement and kindled the desire to keep on learning.

So what did these teachers have in common?

They Were Masters of Their Content

All of these teachers knew their subject matter. The questions they raised with students made it clear that it was OK not to know the details, but not OK not to pursue the answers. These teachers were enthusiastic about their subject matter, as though what was going on at that moment was the most important thing ever. They connected their content to everything they did.

One school had a science class for gifted and talented students. The science teacher lived and breathed science. One morning when I arrived at school—at 5:30 a.m., as was my habit—a car was already parked out in front. In it were a sleepy-eyed father and his twin daughters who were in 4th grade. As I walked toward the car, the girls were already bounding out the door. The father rolled down his window and said, “I hope it’s all right for me to bring them. They said you’d be here, and they’re sure the chicks in the lab hatched overnight. They couldn’t wait to come. You know, they help the science teacher in the lab every morning.”

Actually, I didn’t know that they helped the science teacher, who didn’t teach either of the children, but I did know that she shared her love of science with all the students in the school. By the time school started, every 4th grader had already been in to see the chicks.

They Were Insatiable Learners

Perhaps the most frustrated classroom teachers I have worked with or observed were those who thought that four years of undergraduate training should carry them through a 30-year career. These teachers feel oppressed by professional development of any kind. Their mantra is, “Just give me my kids, and let me teach.”

The most effective teachers realize that … Read More