5 Traits of an Effective Teacher

TEACH written on alphabet blocks with books in background

Even if teaching in an academic setting is not your profession, you will teach from time to time. If you are a parent, you teach your children every day. If you are in a leadership position at work, you may often have to teach others how to improve their skills on the job. Regardless of who you are or what you do, knowing the basic traits of a good teacher and striving to apply them in your teaching is beneficial. In this post, you’ll learn five hallmarks of effective teachers.

Empathy and Care

What It Means

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you  mastered a certain skill or type of knowledge years ago, it might be difficult to go back in time and remember what it was like to start at level one. Empathy, however, will help you understand what your students are feeling.

Caring about your students is having a genuine desire for them to succeed. You’re not teaching just because you have to or because you want to get a paycheck. It is hoping that your students reap genuine benefits from the knowledge you are trying to impart.

Why It Is Important

If you do not strive to form a heartfelt connection with your students, they will be able to sense it. They might hesitate to ask you questions, or they might feel ashamed if they are struggling to grasp certain concepts. 

Commenting on the importance of empathy, one expert wrote, “Showing empathy can help you change that dynamic, so you not only acknowledge and consider what you see and feel, but also what you don’t see. Those unseen challenges could include learning and thinking differences. But other struggles… may also be involved.”

Caring about your students makes them feel confident in you as a teacher.

How to Improve

You can do your best to get to know your students. What are their reasons for learning? Why is their success important to them? What is their everyday life like? (You shouldn’t pry into their personal business, of course, but knowing a bit about their background can go a long way toward promoting empathy.) Remember that your students’ success is your success.

Ability to Develop Proper Relationships with Students

What It Means

It’s good for students to look up to teachers, admire them, and trust them — but remember boundaries. Proper boundaries can vary depending on the setting in which you are teaching, but you should always respect the dignity and privacy of your students. Your relationship should remain on a level that is professional, but neither should you be overly cold or transactional with students because, as we just discussed, it is vital that you care about them.

Why It Is Important

There have been too many scandals in the news about teachers and students developing inappropriate feelings for each other. However, crossing boundaries doesn’t always mean something as extreme as improper affection. It might mean that you are too eager for your students’ approval to properly discipline them, or it might mean that personal concerns start to overshadow your purpose for spending time with them — that is, to teach them.

On the other hand, if you are not close enough to your students, they’ll think you don’t care. And if they think you don’t care, they are more likely to underperform.

Keeping a balance between caring for your students and not getting too personally involved with them will benefit everyone involved.

How to Improve

Make an honest examination of yourself. If you aren’t sure if you have gotten too close, or if you need to get a little closer to your students, ask for opinions. A trusted friend or coworker may be able to give you insights into how you can improve your teaching by improving the nature of your relationships with your students.

You should also make sure to learn the ins and outs of what are considered proper student-teacher relationships in your area. There may even be laws that are applicable (if you are an adult teaching minors).


What It Means

Enthusiasm means you are not teaching just because you have to. Enthusiasm means you want to impart knowledge. You want your students to absorb the information. You recognize the value of what you are teaching, and you genuinely believe it will have a positive impact on your students’ lives.

Why It Is Important

According to the National Communication Association (NCA), “Teacher enthusiasm is generally recognized as one of the most essential and desirable qualities and characteristics of effective teachers.” If you are enthusiastic, it will come across in the way you present the information. You will do so with excitement and energy, and your students will catch onto that. Enthusiasm creates a dynamic education environment that encourages students to actively participate in lessons. It makes them eager to learn less eager to pack up their books and head home to play video games.

How to Improve

Even if you love what you teach, you might find it difficult to portray enthusiasm. Here are some tips on how to show how excited you are to teach:

  • Smile often, and make eye contact with your students.
  • Celebrate your students’ accomplishments.
  • Be well-prepared. You might know your subject inside and out, but if you don’t have an organized lesson plan handy, you might find yourself stumbling through class.
  • Don’t be afraid of fun. Amusing anecdotes and jokes can make learning more lively for everyone involved.

Knowledge of the Subject

What It Means

Knowing your subject means more than having studied it once in a book.You should be able to think about a subject from different angles, and you should be able to explain it in your own words. Keeping up with the latest developments in your area of expertise is also vital.

Why It Is Important

How can you teach what you do not know? If you only have a cursory knowledge of the subject, and you do not dive into its deeper aspects, you may find yourself at a loss when students ask challenging questions. You might even unintentionally share incorrect information.

How to Improve

The key to expanding your knowledge is, of course, having a good study routine. Consider subscribing to a professional journal that shares all the latest news about your area of expertise, and take the time to regularly review what you already know so the information stays fresh in your mind. Try to anticipate questions students might ask, and prepare thorough answers, or find resources that your students can use to discover the answer on their own.


What It Means

Being adaptable as a teacher means that you are ready to make adjustments in your teaching methods. Are your students visual learners, or do they respond better to hands-on experience? Do music, humor, or anecdotes seem to be effective in helping them retain information? Are new resources or tools available in your field that might enhance your teaching? Do you have coworkers or fellow teachers who advocate a certain teaching method?

Why It Is Important

Teaching is a dynamic job. It is an ever-changing task that has to keep up with the times — and with students. If you struggle to adapt, you may find that burnout and frustration are frequent issues for you. Failing to adapt can also have a negative impact on your students.

Conversely, adapting can have huge benefits. A report from the University of New South Wales in Sydney noted, “Adaptability has been highlighted as essential for teachers, given the constantly changing demands of teaching work. Our research has shown adaptability may also help teachers avoid feelings of disengagement and, in turn, avoid lower job commitment. And so adaptability may be one factor to consider in efforts to support teachers’ well-being.”

How to Improve

Being adaptable is challenging for some individuals, but you can succeed! Here are some tips to help you be more adaptable:

  • Try to see the positive side of change.
  • Believe in your power to conquer new obstacles.
  • Adopt a “problem-solver” mentality that searches for creative solutions to obstacles.
  • Talk to experienced teachers who have had to adapt to adjustments over the years; they may offer some useful tips.


Being an effective teacher takes some serious effort, but the payoff is worth it. What qualities, traits, and techniques have you found that contribute to effective teaching? Let us know in the comments! T-Pin and his crew look forward to hearing your thoughts.


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