How do great teachers bring out the best in their pupils?

Often when you hear world class athletes talk about their inspirations and influences they will cite a youth leader, a teacher from primary school or someone who ran their local sports club. We refer to our ‘formative years’ as such because things that happen at an early age can easily determine the direction of the rest of a person’s life.

Teachers matter a lot!

A few years ago, I heard Sir Chris Hoy relay a similar story about the coach, at his first ever cycling club in a small Scottish town, asking the group what their ambitions were. They had to write down a target for that season, the next five years and a lifetime goal. He recalled how he was the only one who wrote ‘win an Olympic gold medal’ on his piece of paper. Apparently, everyone else laughed (in a friendly but nonetheless mocking) way but the coach came and talked to him about what he’d written. As a result of that conversation, they picked a year (2004) and worked backwards to that week: then they worked out what he need to achieve each week, month and year to get himself on track for his goal.

The six-time-gold-medal-winner finished his story by saying that, at the time, he wasn’t even the best cyclist in the room, let alone the club, the country or the world.

So, the first attribute of a good teacher is one that will listen to their pupils, take their ambitions seriously and fully nurture their potential. Let’s look at a few more:

Have the flexibility to teach through engagement, understanding and practical means: All children are different and learn in a variety of ways, so a great teacher needs to be able to recognise those needs and adapt to them. Whether in a classroom or one-to-one teaching, being able to connect with each student on their level is vital to getting the best out of them and for them.

Excellent organisational and planning skills: Modern teaching means being able to integrate with technology as well as interact with children. Even the most naturally organised person cannot possibly handle the demands of today’s busyness without relying on a computer of some sort. There are so many great teaching and organisational tools around nowadays that can be used to ensure that the children get as much face-to-face time with their best teachers as is humanly possible.

The ability to show authority and leadership, fairly and positively: Discipline can be a bit of a slippery slope for many teachers today, often with blurred with crossed-purposed lines. A truly great teacher is one who has mastered the art of leadership over lording their authority, and inspiring effort over instilling fear.

Driven by a passion for children, more than just a salary: Perhaps the most important attribute of all is a teacher’s motivation for what they do. Unlike any other job, teaching is more of a vocation than a profession and to do it really well you need to believe in what you are doing, as well as believing in the potential of your pupils. For a great teacher, there is no greater reward than seeing one of their students pass an exam, complete a course, overachieve or go on to win an Olympic gold medal.

The achievements of truly great teachers, like Olympic champions, are remembered long after they have stopped making a difference in the world around them. 

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