Education Opinion

What Makes a Good Teacher?

By Patrick Ledesma — November 07, 2011 3 min read
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Can you define what makes a good teacher?

Fareed Zakaria aired a Global Public Square (GPS) Special: Fixing Education on November 5 on CNN.

During one of the segments, Mr. Zakaria asked Mr. Gates what he thought makes a good teacher. (The Gates Foundation is investing millions of dollars to understand, in their words, “how America can foster great teaching.”)

Fareed Zakaria: What do you think makes a good teacher?

Bill Gates: Clearly, there’s something about engaging the student. As I’ve watched the videos of great teachers, they are constantly looking out and seeing that the kids are starting to fidget. They’re bringing up the energy level. They’re calling on this kid. They’re using examples.

Listening to Mr. Gates talk about his beliefs of what the good teachers do in classrooms reminds me of the professional development courses I taught when I was an Instructional Resource Teacher with the Office of Staff Development for my district.

This professional development class was designed to help experienced teacher leaders improve their teaching.

The class began with this opening activity to ease into discussion about what makes a great teacher.


Think of a teacher who has made an impact on your life. Describe what that teacher did that made a difference for you.

The Similarities

Like Mr. Gates, the teachers talked about that “something about engaging the student.”

The teachers talked about how their memorable teachers cared about them as individuals. The great teachers knew their students as people- their interests, academic strengths, and emotional needs.

The best teachers had that, as Mr. Gates remarked, “something about engaging” them.

Other teachers talked about how their memorable teacher inspired them to develop a “love of learning” of the content and subject. The memorable teacher could make the subject come alive.

The best teachers had that, as Mr. Gates remarked, “something about engaging” them.

Other teachers described their memorable teacher as being community foundations - actively involved with students, the school, families, and the community.

The best teachers had that, as Mr. Gates remarked, “something about engaging” them.

These descriptions are the “something” that Mr. Gates is talking about. Educators can specify what that “something about engaging” is - that the best, great, and ultimately, memorable teachers build personal, academic, and emotional relationships with students each day.

That’s the engagement that Mr. Gates is seeing in those videos in his research.

That “Something” from 23 Years Ago

Educators in schools already know what makes a great teacher. That “something about engaging” had been defined in the Five Core Propositions of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.... in 1989.

These Five Core Propositions describe what makes teachers great. The Propositions are defined in the policy document “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do.”

The Five Core Propositions

Proposition 1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

Proposition 2: Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students

Proposition 3: Teachers are Responsible for Managing and Monitoring Student Learning

Proposition 4: Teachers Think Systematically about Their Practice and Learn from Experience

Proposition 5: Teachers are Members of Learning Communities.

The full policy document outlines the National Board’s vision for accomplished teaching and is available here.

Anyone who has any interest in understanding what the best teachers should do should read this document. It’s an inspiration testament to the life, rewards, and challenges of a classroom teacher.

Full Circle

It is very commendable that the Gates Foundation is investing millions of dollars to understand good teaching.

I am going to predict that the findings of this research will lead back to the Five Core Propositions- the same Five Core Propositions that were created almost 23 years ago.

Perhaps the difference this time will be everyone involved in these education debates can engage in productive discussion about promoting good teaching.

And most importantly, all stakeholders can discuss the types of policies, funding, and supports needed to make a vision of making more good teachers a reality. After all, there is a history that began in 1987 of a mission to define good teaching, define a process to capture it, assess it, identify those who do it, and advocate for policy and funding to promote and sustain it.

Time to move forward.

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.