What are the characteristics of a good teacher?

The first day of this workshop was anything but boring. The first thing that struck me, was that I am spending a week with people from all over the world, interested in the same thing: Teaching evidence-based health care (EBHC) – although this is quite obvious from reading the title of the workshop, it is great to be surrounded by people who know what EBHC is and who do not need to be convinced that teaching EBHC is essential!

The day started out with an introductory plenary session by Dr Carl Henegan in which he presented the five characteristics of a good teacher. To summarize, a good teacher:

1. is enthusiastic, energetic, excited (think about the best teacher you ever had – mine definitely fits this description and he was teaching Maths!)

2. is highly knowledgable in his area

3. maintains that knowledge (think: professional students)

4. is committed to life-long learning

5. is changing and influencing practice (this is probably the most difficult aspect since changing practice requires consideration of a number of other factors)

In our break-away session, we also experienced how telling a story can really grab the learners’ attention and set the scene for the lecture. This can be a personal story (which allows you to connect with the learners) a recent news paper article, or even a story about a German physician who, in the 1780’s, claimed that magnetism was the answer to ill health. (Read more about Franz Mesmer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Mesmer)

A teacher should  take his knowledge, simplify it and communicate it to the learners – this in itself is a challenge. How do I explain difficult EBHC concepts to learners who know little about the field? This is only one of the questions I am hoping to have answered by the end of the week.

Luckily the wheather allowed us to spend part of the afternoon session in the lovely garden of St. Hugh’s College.

So, what do you think are other characteristics of a good teacher?


2 thoughts on “What are the characteristics of a good teacher?

  1. Hi Anke
    Your list of characteristics resonates with the work of Trigwell (2001) and of course, Chickering and Gamson’s (1991) seminal principles of good practice in undergraduate education. Further additions could be things like demonstrating respect for your students; and being aware of context, and teaching accordingly. Carpenter and Tait (2001) suggest that good teaching is about ‘creating places and spaces for engagement between the teacher and the student and between students themselves’. Presumably a good teacher is one who can facilitate such engagement – this requires careful and ongoing critical reflection on one’s practice.

    Elton (1998) however reminds us that ‘teaching excellence is not a simple concept and, as a concept, lacks precision’. He also cautions that not all teachers will display all of the characteristics of a ‘good teacher’.

    As far as your question about how we take knowledge and simplify it – you might find the work of Andrew Northedge (2003:172) instructive:
    If students are unable to make a sentence … meaningful, because
    they do not have appropriate frames of reference within their repertoires, how can
    they acquire the necessary framing? Unfortunately, the primary means is to participate
    in the very discourse that they are unable to make sense of. This is a classic
    dilemma for students. They find themselves ‘locked out’—unable to make sense of
    utterances they encounter because they cannot place them within the implicit frames
    of reference, but equally unable to make progress with internalising these frames of
    reference because they cannot engage with the utterances through which the frames
    are made manifest. This is why students need teachers. The teacher, as a speaker of
    the specialist discourse, is able to ‘lend’ students the capacity to frame meanings they cannot
    yet produce independently.

    Enjoy – I am very envious. It all sounds most interesting and stimulating.

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