Think back to your school days.
Did you have a favorite teacher? One who really made an impact on you? What made that teacher so special? While no two answers will be identical, there’s definitely some common thread. To find it, we asked several parents, teachers and an administrator here in southeast Michigan to share their top traits and narrowed the list down to just five.
Nobody mentioned “an easy grader” or “a strict disciplinarian.” Rather, they chose characteristics that will impact children now – and in the future.
1. Compassion and understanding
Mentioned several times across the board, this compound quality rises to the top.
“This trait is essential,” says Nicole Griffore, a teacher at St. Mary Catholic School in Mount Clemens. She explains that students are all different and face unique challenges. “Having compassion and understanding is what will help them open up and work for you. When they feel they have a player on their side, they then trust you and know they can talk to you.”
As a teacher, Griffore says she has to find ways to connect with her students and understand where they are coming from.
“Reaching out on a personal level is what they remember,” says Griffore. This includes getting to know them as individuals and expressing an interest in their talents and curiosities.
Jessika Whiteside is the mom of a young child in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools. She also sees this sort of genuine attention as a top trait in her son’s educators.
“I need my kids to have teachers who will help to make them the best people they can be, both academically and as a human being,” says Whiteside. “Someone who is understanding can work with them and help them to internalize the importance of showing compassion towards others.”
Danielle Mangiapane of Macomb Township says her middle schooler struggles in school. So she hopes to see compassion, especially, in teachers. “I feel it is so important for teachers to be able to connect with their students,” Mangiapane says. “Every student is different and deserves that special connection and to feel important while spending 35 hours a week away from their families.”
Angela Miller, who also lives in Macomb, has a son in kindergarten and was worried about his quiet and shy personality impacting him in school. But his kind classroom leader put her at ease.
“She’s a very caring teacher,” Miller says. “She’s super welcoming and really knows her kids. It makes it so much easier dropping him off with someone who I can tell cares about him as an individual and doesn’t look at him as just a student.”
2. Passion for teaching
When the administrators from Livonia Public Schools are looking for a new teacher, a love of teaching is the top trait they seek. To find it, candidates must teach a lesson in front of a group of administrators. The hiring committee looks for analytical knowledge and classroom management, true. But, overall, they want to find someone who loves what they do.
“We’re looking for heart,” says Bill Green, principal of Roosevelt Elementary School, who’s involved in the hiring process. “I can teach them to administer a certain assessment, but I need to see that they have a heart for the kids and teaching.”
Green says teaching is a mission, not just a job.
“When you go into education and teaching, it’s really a calling. People go into it because it’s a mission of theirs to serve others,” Green says.
Whiteside says her son’s teacher isn’t just laying the groundwork for this year but also the years to come. By showing enthusiasm early on, Whiteside says, she is molding him into a better student.
“It matters to me greatly that I can feel her love for teaching and my child,” says Whiteside. “I know she’s invested in his future, and that love motivates him greatly.”
Also a teacher, Whiteside wants her passion shows to show through to her students, too. “As a teacher, I hope that I’m honoring each kid as an individual in order to meet them where they are and to help cultivate who they want to be,” she says.
“Literally within five minutes, that lesson you spent hours on, planning and tweaking, could be out the window,” says Griffore. “It could be an assembly, it could be a fire drill, you never know. Being able to change and rearrange is something that you learn quickly and become better with as each day passes.”
Jessica Schornak of St. Clair Shores is a teacher and a mother. When it comes to teaching, she likes to see educators who are adjustable, as well.
“We have to be flexible by adapting lessons as they are being presented, adapting learning to all children and facing the challenges of a decrease in funding,” Schornak says.
The trait is important to Mangiapane, too; however, she also likes to see teachers who are bendable about life outside the classroom.
“Being a flexible-yet-firm teacher sends the message that teachers ‘get’ the fact that life happens and sometimes gets in the way. Kids shouldn’t feel pressured to do piles and piles of homework – they are only kids once,” Mangiapane says.
4. Good communication
Green says that while communication with the teacher changes as a child grows, everyone should remain involved.
“The great teachers, coaches and administrators don’t ever sever anyone out of the relationships. They don’t eliminate the parent to add in the child for communication. Instead, they look for ways to keep everyone updated on what’s going on,” says Green.
Whiteside says she is thankful for teachers with great communication skills.
“It means I can do my job as a parent better to support my kids,” she says. For her, this means an email, text or even a quick check-in during pickup. “I think good communication is being open to conversation and being available.”
Whiteside says her son’s teacher wrote each student a letter over winter break and sent it in the mail.
“I love the message that communicates with us,” she adds.
“By showing enthusiasm, my sons’ teachers have allowed them to see that learning can be fun,” says Krystal Norris, a Sterling Heights mother of two. “Their teachers encourage them to do their best and keep learning.”
Norris says teachers with enthusiasm are also hands-on, which make a difference with kids.
“By being hands-on, their teachers have made a connection with the children and gotten to know them and what works for them in a learning environment,” says Norris, who adds that’s especially important for children with learning disabilities or other challenges.
While many teachers possess these traits, Green says it’s important to note that not all teachers are the same. They don’t all have the same teaching styles, he explains, and that’s good for students.
“The wide range of different types of teachers is healthy for our children. It helps them to be prepared for future jobs and their college experience. Embrace the difference in teachers,” says Green. He encourages parents to remind children that each teacher will bring something different to the classroom, and the change in teachers each year is a good thing.
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.