What kind of teacher are you? Are you in your students' "Hall of Fame"?

<![CDATA[The interest in the qualities of good teachers is not new. This post includes some thoughts on a study I conducted a few years ago with two groups of different learners (50 adults and 60 young learners between 11-13).  The adults who took part in this interim study were contacted by me directly. The young learners were asked the questions by my trainees who were their teachers.

Civic Fame (La corona de cinco puntas)
Cless via Compfight

Everyone was asked to describe a teacher who has remained ‘unforgettable’ to them, to tell us what they used to (or still) do and what sort of person they were ( or still are).

The second question invited the learners to give new or future teachers of English some advice so that they, too, could one day enter their students’ private “halls of fame”.

The questions were asked in English and in the students’ native language (Greek).
The list of attributes which follows is an attempt to present a mass of data which was not always described in the very same words by everyone – though there was no ambition other than to explore the views of learners and conduct an interim study which could be followed by more systematic work. Keeping in mind that this is not a numerical quantitative research, a rough ranking has been attempted.
(See table of results below )

Young  Learners’ Ranking Adult  Learners’ Ranking
Are friendly 1
Are firm but not strict 2
Teach Motivating & Fun lessons 3 6
Involve all learners; do not  discriminate 4 5
Have a good sense of humour 5 18
Do not burden Learners with  busywork 6
Are passionate/ enthusiastic about  teaching 7 2
Are patient/ tolerant/ sympathetic 8 3
Encourage & Reward all learners 9 9
Are calm and relaxed 10
Create an atmosphere of goodwill 11
Respect learners and their ideas 12
Can manage a class very efficiently 13 4
Do not dominate their classes 14
Their lessons have ‘surprises’ 15
Don’t hesitate to improvise 16
Use audiovisual materials  confidently 17
Are focused on the learners 18 17
Are calm/ cool/ relaxed/ laid back 19 20
Are creative with materials &  techniques 20 1
Have good communication skills 7
Are knowledgeable about their subject 8
Are properly qualified 10
Are organized 11
Are confident 12
Can explain well 13
Are supportive 14
Are competent language users 15
Understand/know their  learners well 16
Interesting as people 19

The rankings in contrast

What they all said

Rankings 1-10 received the highest attention mentioned by more than 60% of the respondents.

The rankings, show a tendency of younger learners to value certain personal qualities more and dwell less on subject knowledge and technical perfection, while adult learners value the teacher’s subject knowledge and technical know-how to a greater degree.

Adults are challenged by teachers who use sophisticated and motivating techniques, while children, even if bored to tears by the lesson, can be captivated by a high degree of energy, enthusiasm and a teacher who smiles and is affectionate.

What is notable in this investigation is the very great emphasis all age groups place on the personality of the teacher, a crucial key determinant to the success or failure of a lesson, a class, a learner – a factor often neglected by many colleagues who presume that methodology is the only thing that matters.

Unfortunately, this does not quite work out.

To reach the high standards of a professional educator, it seems just as important to develop personally as well as professionally in order to finally obtain one’s rightful place in one’s students’ “hall of fame” .

Adults and children agree on what teachers they associated with unsuccessful learning experiences were like or did (adults) or as advice to new teachers in terms of what to avoid (children).

In random fashion, as these are things are not mentioned by enough learners to really be able to rank in any way, they don’t want teachers who are:

… always in a bad mood
… “know-alls’
… do not inspire respect
… are always negative
… are indifferent to teaching
… show no love for their subject
… do not explain at all
… make them feel anxious
… rude to them
… sarcastic

Can this be achieved?

Some teachers seem to be able to achieve  ‘hall-of-fame’ status without any great effort, while others struggle on.

Can this status be achieved – this is really the big question.

There is a very interesting series of videos on Teachers TV, called “From Good to Outstanding” and you might like to view one of the videos here to consider the whole notion of helping a teacher reach that status.

Google the phrase “good teacher qualities” and you will come up with almost 100,000 results…. may be that is how many educators are concerned with this issue. Without the quotation marks (Boolean search), there are many more. Less than 1/10 mentions any type of research and I wonder how many of those have involved students. There is an interesting citation here which suggests that the results of such investigations are powerless in improving the quality of teaching; however, my understanding is that the researches mention this in the context of attempting to quantify this type of research, something which may be very difficult indeed.

This is food for thought and further investigations to confirm or reject the suspicion that it is all in the teacher’s persona and personal aura (or ‘presence”), these being able to cover up for technical or other weaknesses.

The need for teacher education, continuous professional development, improvement of classroom skills , work on one’s language performance and awareness, and a broader view and depth of professional understanding are all seen as very necessary in any teacher’s life.

Personal Qualities Rule

Yet, the learners are telling us that all the knowledge and skills needed, expected and demanded, are as nothing if they do not pass through the filter of a personality which is mature, aware of self, sensitive and unbiased and ready and game for challenge and change.

The message from our learners is clear and unambiguous though this does not make the way to achieving those ends any smoother or easier.

It does present us though with an exciting challenge and, I should add, with food for thought and scope for work to last us for three, not just one lifetime.

Those who have the ‘passion and enthusiasm’ for the profession demanded by our learners will not be frightened, will find their own way to professional growth and personal and professional fulfillment, even though the task may look daunting. After all, isn’t this the reason they chose this job in the first place?

Perhaps, the biggest issue lies in the selection of the right individuals who have the potential to be great educators.

But that is where every educational system breaks down completely.

Some interesting further reading

  1. Rosenshine, B, & Furst, N.F., 1971, Research on Teacher Performance Criteria. Research in Teacher Education: A Symposium, Ed. B.O. Smith, Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice Hall
  2. Ryans, D. G. 1960, Characteristics of Teachers. Washington D.C.: American Council on Teachers
  3. RSA/UCLES, 1997, Notes for the Guidance of the Conduct of Assessments, from the DOTE & DTEFLA manuals issued to all Recognised RSA Centres

The image used in this post is of a great teacher, Vicky Zurakowski, who was my trainee on a DELTA course (2007-2009) and is used with her permission.

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35 replies

  1. I enjoyed reading your post very much. I also like teachers’ TV clips, although I did not always agree with the “expert”‘s conclusions. His/her view of “outstandingness” is subjective, I reckon.
    But can it be any different?
    You asked *the* important question : can the”good teacher status” be acheived”? and I would add “can this status be taught”?
    Actually “outstandingness” does not arrive overnight, it’s a process, and something very personal, something to do with experience and how you feel the learning/teachingis is going, and how you think it is perceived by students, and how the students think you thought you’ve perceived them (I am clear?)it’s rather complex to be a teacher ! surely a lot can be taught, but eventually it’s down to the educator to be, just be there in the classroom on his own. I tend to say to my younger colleagues that if they are not at ease with a new activity yet, if they haven’t yet overcome the fear of novelty, then, don’t force yourself. Do the activity when you think you can take the plunge.
    All the qualities you mentioned in your list seem very important, but, for me, being “enthusiastic about teaching” is paramount, together with the ability to “discovery” (mayb this was implied by the term “surprise”, I mean a teacher who helps you discover language, who treats a lesson like an adventure, always gets my vote. There is a thrill in the discovery process. A sort of awe even!
    So if you can communicate this awe and enthusiasm then all the rest arrive galloping : humour, imagination, improvisation, patience,explanations, everything.
    Voilà my 2p.

  2. Alice,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Passion for the job rules apparently, and if it’s not there, the learners seem to know.

    I did a similar small scale version of this on Facebook through a poll tool of the “I am Teacher” application and passion comes out tops again!

    I agree that the quality of being ‘outstanding’ is not something you can attain overnight and I share some of your feeling regarding those Teachers TV comments…

    But having worked with a very creditable assessment body for many years now, I can tell you how difficult it is to define the quality of being ‘outstanding’.

    I do not know how many standardization meetings I have attended where both assessors and tutors alike have a very great difficulty in precisely defining this quality without waxing lyrical or, on occasion, incoherent!

    Nevertheless, it is a question worth asking and reflecting on and I guess there are different paths that lead to the same high level of achievement and different processes in different teachers’ developmental paths.

    J’ai tres bien aime ton 2p!


  3. What a fascinating bit of research.
    I was intrigued by the different rankings of adults and young learners. How interesting that creativity was up there at number one for adults, but at the bottom for young learners.
    Not so surprising was friendliness being no 1 for young learners and patience, tolerance and supportiveness featuring strongly for adults. ‘Thank you for your patience’ is a pretty common farewell comment at the end of a business English course.
    Thank you for sharing!

  4. I find it interesting that the top two qualities for young learners didn’t even make the adult list. I wonder if creativity is so high for adults because they recognize it more than young learners? Seeing the personal qualities so high on both lists seems to support the notion that students appreciate the social aspect of learning and the experience of the process involved in learning. Thanks for putting this study to together. It will lead to a great discussion.

  5. Thank you for that provocative post and primer on the characteristics of “memorable” – or ideal – teachers.

    While I have no experience teaching young child, the survey confirms my perceptions about the educational desires of adult students. Many adult students work and struggle in boring, stressful positions so they seek more creativity and passion in their English classes – and English teachers. Further, given the time pressures, instructors who both efficiently manage their classes and display patience are appreciated.

    I would be curious, however, to know if there is a difference between various types of adult learners. For instance, many Business English classes in an EFL context include many middle-class professionals while many more working class adults attend ESL classes in English speaking classes. I also wonder if different ages of adults would provide different responses. Would younger working adults look for the same qualities as seniors taking an English class?

    Again, thank you for sharing that illuminating survey.

  6. I’m particularly interested in the responses of adult learners. I hadn’t really expected ‘Being creative with materials & techniques’ to be number 1. I may do some fine-tuning with some of my classes. Too often, I get focused on the book and need to be more creative. Thanks for posting this research.

  7. What an enlightening post! Wouldn’t it be interesting to have results from learners in different countries/contexts.
    It does make me wonder about CELTA assessments though! In cynical moments I think we are ‘teaching by numbers’. Poor trainees have to get so many boxes ticked that they just don’t have space to be themselves, to be all those things that you have pointed out that learners love. The warmth and creativity so often get ousted by the stress of needing to get it ‘right’. It really bothers me. I SO wish I could train my trainees to teach rather than constantly assess them.

    Rant over! Thanks for the thought-provocation.


  8. Hello!

    How nice to come back today and see all your comments!

    Some points for all my commenters:

    The differences are indeed striking but may be local.

    Why not investigate amongst your own learners? After all this was a first exploratory investigation intended to explore which categories came up. Now some categories have emerged, do please go ahead and use them with different age groups and in different locales and link your post back here or send me the link.

    I am glad that no one has taken this to mean that for young learners it’s OK to bring in someone smiley and affectionate, but never mind if they’re untrained or lack any subject knowledge or professional understanding!!!

    The rough ranking is mine, not the learners’.

    I have simply put the attribute most frequently mentioned at the top.

    If anyone decides to do this properly, then we might think about getting a proper questionnaire put together.


    Your adults thank you for your patience because it looks to me like they have suddenly come accross a great teacher and remember what it was like before – grim, unpleasant and boring. I have seen this happen so often that I recognise an adult learner hard done by as a younger learner or teenager!


    As you say, certain notions may not even exist in the young child’s vocabulary and I think that this is why it is so difficult to do a proper investigation or the same investigation you do with adults. Could creativity be an implied quality when a child says that they like teachers who create fun lessons or whose lessons have suprises? I personally, take it this way. So maybe some things are the same but have been said differently.


    I do not have data in the categories you suggest; as I said at the top of this reply though, you might want to take this a step further and investigate with your own learners. Whether the results are significant to anyone else, does not in fact really matter. But they would certainly matter to you, wouldn’t they, to see what kind of teacher your learners hope you might be – as part of your needs analysis even?


    Yes! Most definitely get out of the book! I am so delighted if I have got you to think about that!


    I know exactly what you mean but although the CELTA assessment criteria do not mention the attributes above, I think it is up to the centre/tutor to promote the view that they are not teaching ‘for the tutor’ (diplay/performance teaching) but they’re teaching their learners. I do comment on this in TP feedback myself. I think over and above what Cambridge says, we have some freedom to introduce core issues that we consider important. I certainly do and I have never had an assessor comment negatively on this. I can send you an activity I use early on which makes use of this questionnaire and its results.


    Thanks for stopping by and your comment here and on Twitter.

  9. Great post, Marisa!

    my first thought was a sense of relief. I’ve always hoped that my enthusiasm for teaching would put me up the rankings despite my evident lack of academic qualifications.

    My second thought is how your findings mirror those of my much better-qualified wife, Dede. For her Masters, she researched student perceptions of being taught by NESTs and non-NESTs. The focus groups were all teenage students who were being taught by native and non-native speaker teachers (in the same course, not team-taught in the same lesson).

    All the students put things like ‘Sense of humour’ and ‘Enthusiasm’ at the top of their
    lists, with ‘Knowledge of the language’ and ‘Being organised’ languishing down at the bottom.

    So the message is ‘Keep Smiling’, eh?

  10. Great read, and incredibly interesting. I wondered, too, if the results would be altered significantly by context. But on reflection, I suspect that they probably wouldn’t be that different. Certainly worth asking, although whether every teacher could act upon the results I’m not so sure about.

    Wouldn’t you agree that there are some people who are just more likeable, charismatic and popular? Likewise, are there some people who make others feel uncomfortable. When I think about my teacher training experiences I can think of of times I walked out of a classroom observation thinking “That guy has no idea what he is doing!”… yet the students adored him. I also saw teachers who did everything ‘right’ on paper, but the whole just didn’t work because the teacher lacked something inside. A skilled trainer might be able to bring more out of such teachers… but I wonder.

  11. Ken,

    It’s interesting to see that the finding here check out in other contexts, too!

    I think as far as good energy and enthusiasm go, you would come out tops!

    Suffice it to say that I would just love you to be my teacher and that ain’t something I say to many…:-)

  12. Darren,

    Yes, indeed for some it comes easier.

    Can a skilled trainer do things with this list? Or can you help trainees who don’t have those qualities acquire them?

    For me the answer is “yes” and “no”.

    Yes, you can do lots towards improving a trainee teacher’s performance and turn them into more popular and likeable educators if…

    … they understand the importance and impact of their persona over and above method/approach/design
    … they can ‘see’ what you’re saying
    … they have some bad desire for change and excellence
    … you can analyse it clearly and in small chunks; people cannot change everything in one go and they have so much else to juggle with!
    … they have or can develop empathy for their learners and begin to put them first

    No, you can’t do much if…

    … they freak out and think it’s all in the design
    … they think they came to your course perfectly and beautifully formed anyway and who are you to meddle with this perfection?
    … they think of their learners as the “punters” who are there just for them to learn – they’re part of the service, innit?

    I am sure there are a lot more “yes if’s” and “no if’s” I could add.

    I think a lot of this has to do with the kind of role models we ourselves put out to them in our teacher educator roles. If you cannot do it with them, how can you demand it of them?

    What do you think?

  13. Marisa,
    What a fascinating read! I’d concur with Joanna and support the general feeling that a comparison of national preferences would indeed be very worthwhile. Not sure, for instance, that our adult German learners would put creativity in pole position.
    I’d love to support this research. Our teachers’ association is meeting for training (with Karenne!) this coming weekend. Would you happen to have a questionnaire we could use?

  14. Hi Anne,

    Sure I can send you one which I use regularly with my trainees based on this chart.

    Finding out what other nationalities prefer looks like the next logical step.

    Keep me posted about your findings please?


  15. Hi, Marisa.

    Excellent read!
    Thanks for posting it and generating such top-notch comments above.

    Very encouraging indeed.

  16. Hate to be another broken record, but this essay rules.

    I can see the reasoning behind the adult learners’ rankings of creativity, passion, patience, engagement, etc. I would guess that my adult students here in Taiwan want the class to give them more than they get at work. Few of us really expect the workplace – a manufacturing or engineering firm, an accounting office, a marketing division, or whatever – to be a place full of creativity with passionate leadership and effective communication that engages everyone. Getting the job done takes priority of self fulfillment every time. (For example, imagine a zeal for creative writing squandered on PR fluff like most press releases. Make you want to jump off a building).

    But I would want all those wonderful ranked qualities like creativity and passion in a classroom that I pay for out of pocket.

  17. Fernando & Duncan,

    Big time thanks for your kind comments!

    I just want to point out that this post does not make claims to associating these qualities with successful learning, something which most people take for granted it does – it doesn’t.

    The next, logical, I think question would be “Do we learn best from memorable teachers or not?”

  18. Hi Marisa

    I have been away for a bit so have just read this lovely posting. I sat down and watched the fantastic video of the very brave and enthusiastic teacher, Rebecca Wills, from beginning to end and found it extremely interesting. From being good to outstanding does take time and a lot of effort, but good training, helpful advice, willingness to learn, go a long way to building up a teacher’s confidence. The table of rankings was really great to read.

    Thanks very much for yet another fascinating post.

  19. A true inspiration Marissa1 Thanx! A chance to think about what our learners want from us..from the young ones to adults.I have to admit, I agree with some of the comments about young learners, do they really knowhow to express their true feelings. From experience,sometimes I wonder if my young learners love me because of what and how they are taught or due to the fact I have ‘trendy; stickers – I know it’s important to have Ben 10 rather than Spiderman??!!As for adults, I agree it would be great to conduct a survey with different nationalities and see how much they are influenced by cultural influences on what they have been brought up to believe is a good teacher or what they actually feel? This happened to me with some Chinese students who found it very difficult to accept a teacher asking about their feelings and ‘encouraging’ them to ask questions in class, did they think I was too flippant or did they feel I was interested in them individually? So, is it the sticker or the perception that the student rank????

  20. Dear Marisa,

    I’m so sorry for coping your article on my blog. My intention wasn’t to prejudice you and your wonderful work. I posted your blog’s link in order to move my readers to your blog to know more about your work. I agree with everything you and your readers said and thought about it. I removed your article from my blog and I hope you forgive me for that. On my blog I do not want teaching people and so to provide ways of learning and the opportunity to know people like you. I’m an English learner from Brazil and I have been studying English for three years alone. I appreciate all of good ways of learning the language and it moved me to make this painful mistake. I received about 5 comments judging my attitude from people that you probably know.
    I’ve made a little mistake deleting your post before answering their question and now I’m unable to keep in touch with them. So I would like to ask you to please forward this message to them in order to justify my mistake.

    I hope you and your readers understand it and pardon me for that.

    Thanks very much and keep up the good work.


  21. Eduardo,

    You have apologised gracefully and openly, seem truly sorry and, most important, you have taken my post down, so your apology is accepted.

    Since you are not an English language teacher but a learner, you will probably have the same problem again. Please have a look at this link on copyright http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_copyright.htm

    I have also notified the individuals whose comments you read on your blog and I am certain that by now they have read your comment here.


  22. Dear Sharon,

    I don’t know the answers you are posing in your comment either!

    Is it the stickers or is it me?

    I suspect it’s both. I cannot imagine a dour teacher handing out pretty stickers with a grumpy face and that causing motivation, enthusiasm, engagement!

    Following up with different learners of different nationalities with different cultural backgrounds and different expectations of their teachers seems like a great idea.

    Good question about your Chinese learners.

    I often wonder myself about our adult learners from Afghanistan and Iran – are we the type of teacher they expect? Or do we seem too flippant for their perceptions of what an educator outght to be like?

    I am really proud of you my Shaz for posing all these questions. You are developing an enquiry focused attitude which is rather wonderful to be part of.

    And that’s MY sticker!


  23. Hi there
    I am working on my dissertation and the survey you published is wonderful. I was wondering if you would give me permission to use it and if so do you have a word document with directions and scoring?
    Thanks so much

    • Hi Alicia and thanks for your kind comments

      I am afraid I have not kept the data, simply because it was a rather open ended study which aimed to yield categories for further research

      I have been planning to now create a proper survey with the categories I have now got but I consider this an interim study, no more

      You are very welcome to use it if it is of any use to you


  24. Thanks Marisa for your post!
    Cultural factors affect too. It is a very interesting topic of conversation.
    Anyway, in a few words I think that a good teacher conveys his own passion for teaching and transforms it into other people’s passion for learning.


  25. Hi Marissa,
    It is interesting that language competence was mentioned only by adults and only as the 15th characteristic. This goes against what most recruioters who discriminate NNESTs say, i.e. my students want to have clases with NESTs.
    I was wondering how you would comment on that and whether perhaps you would be willing to write a guest post on the issue for http://www.teflequityadvocates.com which I run. You can contact me through the Contact section there.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

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