Five Traits of Top Teachers

After reading @greg_ashman’s post about the top five traits of best teachers, I have decided to stick my oar in and share my five with the internet. Just like Greg’s original post this is subjective and is based upon the sort of teacher I would like to be, some of the best colleagues I have worked with and the best teachers I was taught by.

So, my five traits in no particular order

  1. Good ‘explainers’ (for want of a better phrase- ‘good at explaining things doesn’t quite seem to do this justice). At its heart teaching is explaining and the best teachers understand and know their subjects well enough to explain things in a way that students just seem to understand. If one explanation doesn’t work, they are comfortable trying others and they are constantly adapting and tweaking these, often on the spot.

  1. Ability to have almost all classes ‘eat out the palm of their hand’. This can come in many forms. It might be the firm but fair disciplinarian, the slightly scatter-brained drama teacher or the quietly spoken teacher who just exudes presence from the front of the classroom. Whatever form it takes, the best teachers are able to develop a relationship with classes that means that students are attentive, will strive to work incredibly hard, will hang off their every word and are motivated to put in maximum effort (almost) all of the time. It goes without saying that the behaviour in classes taught by such teachers is almost perfect.

  1. Know the ‘hooks’. This is linked to point two and point one but deserves its own listing. As well as knowing ways of best explaining a subject, great teachers know the stories, anecdotes and jokes that students remember and engage with for years to come. I remember the teacher at primary school who took us for PE telling us that the tactics we were working on were the same as Kevin Keegan used when England beat Scotland in the 2000 Euro Qualifiers. I still remember being told the Jaffa Cake/VAT court case in year 7 and use it myself whenever I teach percentage increases. My history teacher at A-Level used to tell us gripping stories about areas of history we simply wouldn’t have had any interest in whatsoever if it wasn’t for him (the history of Quebec being one that has really stuck with my over time). In my subject, the history of Maths is a rich area for engaging students- Fermat’s last theorem and the life and beliefs of Pythagoras are two of my favourite things to talk to students about and I’ve been working hard developing my spiel in a few other areas.

  1. Make time. The best teachers are prepared to give their time to students in their classes. Be it staying behind for revision lessons, taking the time to turn around practice exam papers in the run up to GCSEs, taking the time to get to know their class or making the time to prepare really fantastic show-stopping lessons.

  1. Get results. This one should go without saying but in an effort to push back against an overly results-driven education system, the pendulum can sometimes swing too far the other way and this can be overlooked. Terminal exam results are important and to not have that somewhere near the top of one’s priority list is to not do the best for the students being taught. Results are obviously dependent on context- for some classes ‘results’ may be all students getting a D or better whilst for others nothing less than a fistful of A*s is good enough. To me this seems uncontroversial but I’ve encountered a range of articles lately that seem to suggest otherwise. I’m not suggesting that this should be at the expense of student well-being or holistic development (this is a false dichotomy) but getting results is one of the hallmarks of a great teacher and to suggest otherwise is naive.


Asking students is a great way of finding out who the ‘best teachers’ are. However, in my experience, to get an honest answer you should already have in place a good relationship with that student and, I have often found it helps if I add a caveat like “apart from Maths teachers” in case the student feels uncomfortable referring to one of my closer colleagues.
Thoughts and alternative top fives always welcome either on here or @NWMaths

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