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What Makes an Effective Teacher?

Recruiting & Hiring

In education, there’s a lot of potential for disagreement — what to include on teacher evaluations, how to handle student assessments, what kind of curriculum to implement. But everyone — every educator, administrator, parent and member of the public — can agree on one thing: having an effective teacher in every classroom is one of the best ways to support student learning.

Of course, it’s easy to say that every student needs an effective teacher, but what does that look like in practice? We reached out to the education community for insights. Here are some of our favorite answers.

Effective Teachers Genuinely Care

Many of the responses we received focused on the caring and nurturing aspect of teaching. It’s true — effective teachers understand the altruistic nature of their roles, and realize that empathy and compassion are key ingredients for helping students succeed.

Victor Hernandez, Corpus Christi ISD, Director for Instructional Support:
“Effective teachers are blind to color, gender, age, disability, language, and socioeconomic class.They see all challenges as opportunities, all barriers as stepping stones, and every student as unique, special, and full of potential. They love, they care, and they are committed. They know their job is more about teaching character than teaching content.”

Cara Wood, Hillsboro School District, Principal:
“An effective teacher is not just about test scores. An effective teacher is someone who genuinely cares about students, their families and doing everything they can to make school a safe and engaging place to learn! Their caring and compassion goes beyond the school day, ensuring that families have what they need to support their children.


Effective Teachers Build Relationships

An effective teacher fosters a lifelong love of learning, but that’s a trait that can’t be taught by any lesson plan. When talking about teachers who made an impact on their lives, people rarely bring up instruction or curriculum. Instead, they remember the teacher who believed in them and understood them as an individual.

Karen Ladendorf, Community Consolidated School Dist. 93, Curriculum Integration Specialist:
 “One who strives to personalize learning, build relationships, collaborate with students on personalized paths, incorporates student voice and choice, and pushes themselves to be a lifelong learner alongside their students.”

Cindy Taylor, Santa Maria ISD, Principal:
“An effective teacher believes in their students. Someone that communicates well and builds rapport with students and colleagues. Someone that is a “team player.” Someone who remains positive and cares for their students. Someone who remembers that anyone can make a positive difference in anything that they want to accomplish: As Mahatma Ghandi said, ‘We must be the change that we want to see in the world.’”

Effective Teachers Meet Students Where They Are

Of course, education isn’t easy, and takes more than compassion and communication alone. An effective teacher is committed to continual improvement and refining his pedagogy. These teachers understand that personalized, differentiated instruction is crucial to student achievement.

Alpaslan Ozdogan, Thomas Edison Energysmart Charter School, Project Coordinator:
“No teacher wakes up and finds himself an effective teacher all of a sudden. It takes time and effort. They challenge students with high-level, analytical, real-life problems and guide them through differentiated solutions. But they also create a safe and relaxing environment for students to grow academically, socially and emotionally — all while helping them become productive citizens.” 

Sandy Stewart, Jefferson Academy, Executive Director:
“One who teaches children — not curriculum — who understands that each child learns differently. Who uses effective applicable assessments, both subjective and objective, blended with an understanding of the natural development of the age of children they teach while being sensitive to their physical and emotional needs and challenges. An effective teacher understands that they must use multiple modalities and methods including hands-on projects, technology and other techniques.”

Effective Teachers Are Passionate

And finally, effective teachers are passionate about what they do. It’s hard to be a teacher in today’s climate, and teaching is not for the faint of heart. That means that great teachers are full of passion for their job, their students and their subject.

Carrie Harper-Kitzmiller, ESD 113, Public Schools Personnel Cooperative, Program Specialist:
“Effective teachers have a love and passion for teaching. They are calm, fair, compassionate, flexible, and versed in multiple teaching strategies to reach all types of student learning. They incorporate interactive lessons, make learning fun through grade- and age-appropriate games, continue their own learning, participate in school meetings and functions; and encourage all students to reach their full potential.” 

Diane Davis, Powell County Schools, Professional Growth and Effectiveness Coach:
“An effective teacher must be passionate about their students and passionate about their subject. Kids know if you care about them individually or not, and they can tell if what you are teaching is important to you. If it is dull and boring, they shut down.” 

Annie GrunwellAnnie Grunwell

Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the teacher shortage and best practices in human capital management.