#34 The Student Perspective: What Do Effective Teachers Do?

Last week’s blog examined the question “What do effective teachers do?”  I listed and briefly described a number of effective characteristics I have observed (locally and around the nation) in my nearly 30 years of classroom experience.

With the beginning of a new semester, I took the opportunity to ask some students the question, “What are the characteristics of an effective teacher?”  For this week’s blog post, I have compiled these (non-scientific) responses and would like to share some impressions with you.  First, a few basics:

  • Sample. 66 students responded.
  • Responses. The students had a couple of minutes to jot their thoughts. Some students listed 2 or 3 characteristics; others 6 or more. The most a student listed was 11.  The total number of responses came in at 334 (for an average of just over 5 per student respondent).
  • Compilation. There were (obviously) a number of duplicate responses. Some responses I took the liberty (again, not scientific) of combining; like “intelligent” and “smart.”  I realize we can nuance these terms and might come up with additional (or fewer) categories. To keep this manageable, I will share with you the top five characteristics students identified.

Top Five Student-Identified Characteristics of Effective Teachers

  1. Understanding/Patient/Compassionate.  38 (57.5%) students listed one of these.
  2. Willing to help/explain clearly. 33 (50.0%) want a teacher who is willing to lend a helping hand in explaining material—especially when it is difficult to comprehend.
  3. Interactive/interesting/energetic/enjoys teaching/enthusiastic/likes to teach.  26 (39.4%) students want their teachers to show some passion for what they are doing in the classroom.  If we were to throw in humorous/entertaining/makes light moments the number rises dramatically to 38 or nearly 58% of the students—which would move this to #1 on our list. (As I said—a non-scientific reporting.)
  4. Listens. 15 (24%) of the respondents said they want a classroom instructor who listens to their questions and concerns.
  5. Intelligent/smart. 13 (19.6%) students believe knowledge of the subject matter is important to be an effective teacher.  Competent was another characteristic listed (9 students).  An argument could be made to lump “competent” with “intelligent and smart.” The reason I did not is that we have all met some pretty smart people who are not competent to teach.  That is, they know their material but they have no idea how to relate that material. In other words, they cannot teach!

There were a number of other characteristics that popped up a few times: respectful, organized, firm, encouraging, well-spoken, uses a variety of methods, and approachable to name a few.

What I find interesting—but not surprising—in this anecdotal overview is that students (at least these students) place a lot of emphasis on the human side of teaching. They want a connection with another human being.  Like so many things in life, we know it when we see it—but it is so difficult to quantify.  While I might be able to place a number on how much a teacher knows about her discipline (say, with a test), it is much more difficult to measure her energy, enthusiasm, and humor. As one of the students said, “Everyone can be a teacher but some teachers have the talent to really teach.”  Amen!

Video recommendation for the week:

Last week I left you with an in-your-face video by Taylor Mali. This week, here is a clip of Bill Gates speaking at a TED gathering on how to “make” teachers great.


  © Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog, 2011. 


About stevepiscitelli

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6 Responses to #34 The Student Perspective: What Do Effective Teachers Do?

  1. Pattie Wareh says:

    Thanks for the good reminders Mr. P. Some of us are lucky to have you among our models!


  2. Amy Baldwin says:

    Great insight, Steve. I would have never thought that compassionate would top the list. Thought that interesting/interactive would be tops. It really says that students are very perceptive about where our heart is when we teach.


  3. Brandon says:

    I agree 100% with the student who said, Anybody can be a teacher but it takes true talent to teach. I mean in some classes I have had it was like I was teaching myself.This blog should be a hand out for teacher so they can know what students need. Some of them just dont get it.


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