The Difference Between Good and Great Teachers

11 thoughts on “The Difference Between Good and Great Teachers”

  1. First of all, thank you so much for posting that awesome blog post by Grant Wiggins. What a read! I shared it on Facebook immediately; I hope all my colleagues I’m “friends” with click on the link like I encouraged them to! Since Wiggins (and you) summed up good vs. great teachers so beautifully, I don’t know if I could add anything that wouldn’t be just a “good not great” restatement of what’s been posted here. So what I will say is the statement of yours that I believe sums up everything very nicely is “Great teachers focus on effectiveness; good teachers tend to focus on efficiency.” A lot of problems stem from missing the mark on that degree of good vs. great: effectiveness vs. efficiency. Teachers (and we’ve all done it) have fallen into the trap of “but I need to cover this; I need to move on.” It’s unfortunate that we all feel the pressure from our administrations, standardized testing, and constantly developing teacher evaluation forms and since we are human we do say “but I need to cover this!” in the time we are given. But when I find those moments with my students when efficiency goes out the window and we spend an entire block on a Socratic seminar of Fahrenheit 451 or discussing their future college plans, I’m blown away by the students’ candor and intelligence, because I let them show it with a natural, comfortable approach. Those are the days I leave the school building with a warm, fuzzy feeling instead of a stressed sense of urgency.

    And if I could get every teacher in America to do this in their classrooms (if they don’t already) it would be to relax and be themselves with their students. There is nothing worse than teachers who cannot connect on any level with the younger versions of themselves in front of them.

    1. Megan,

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed it:)

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with your advice to “relax and be themselves with their students.” I think when I started being myself instead of who I was supposed to be, I found that my students enjoyed learning more, connected with me more, and were able to accomplish more. Plus it was a lot more fun for me too!

      Thanks again,


  2. What a great question! I think the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher starts with passion, having the fire in the belly for teaching and students. Have you ever seen Bill Moyer’s interviews with Joseph Campbell? Campbell talks about making your hobby the source of your income, and following your bliss, and that if you do those things there is no such thing as work because you will be doing what you love. I think this is what makes a great teacher. That kind of passion for learning and students is contagious, and students can catch that fire as well. Students know if we love what we do, and they know if we are just phoning it in. My community college did some research a few years back to get feedback from students about their classroom experiences, and one of the things that was super clear was that if the teacher had passion for what they were doing and their subject area, it made the class so much more interesting for students and the students were much more engaged. Here is a link to part of one of the Joseph Campbell interviews:

    1. Jan,

      Wow, thanks for the video. I loved it! Definitely excellent advice for young people. I love my job and am thankful I became a teacher. I hope many of our students have careers they feel the same way about.

      Also, you are so right about passion and fire in the belly. The kids all know which teachers are phoning it in and who really cares.

      Thanks again,


  3. I think the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher from a parent’s perspective is being kept in the loop when it comes to the education process. I realize that time is a valuable commodity for everyone, but I was so grateful that my daughter’s second grade teacher kept a classroom blog for parents. Each Monday, she posted what they’d be covering that week, and helpful ideas for enrichment at home. Every Tuesday she’d post the reading for the week, and even attached scanned pages as a samples from each reading group so that we could see what the level of expectations were. It was not just a repository for permission slips and the occasional group email — it was a real attempt to include us in our childrens’ education, and I know how time consuming it was. I will always appreciate that she took the time to do it, and do it consistently, throughout the entire school year.

    I understand that, as kids get older, many parents “let go” of their education and are not as involved as they were during the elementary school years. But I for one wish that as my daughter enters middle school and a whole new environment, her teachers would maintain blogs to keep me abreast of expectations, goals and concerns. It would really, really help.

    Very nice post. I enjoyed this a great deal. Thank you!

  4. Matt,

    In 6th grade I had a GREAT teacher that literally changed the trajectory of my life. Prior to six grade, I was the classic smart but underachieving student. However, my teachers in K-5 did not really push me so I became accustomed to doing the bare minimum to get by. Well, things changed in 6th grade. For the first time in my life, a teacher made be want to learn, had high expectations, believed in my ability, held my feet to the fire, praised when I did good, and chastised me (in her wonderful way) when I did not. She was knowledgeable, passionate, committed and caring. So, from my perspective, GREAT teachers:

    • Go above and beyond the call of duty, not for praise or fanfare, but because they
    care deeply about the success of their students.

    • Take it personally when students don’t achieve (i.e., they don’t blame it on the ills
    of society, the home life of the child or the child’s socio-economic status).

    • Take an interest in the lives of their students beyond the 4 walls of the classroom

    • Are knowledgeable, passionate, committed and caring

    • Make students want to learn

    • Have high expectations

    • Believe in the innate ability of their students and hold their feet to the fire my

    • Give appropriate praise and punishment

  5. A good teacher imparts the necessary knowledge their students need to know. A great teacher creates a hunger in them to learn more and deeper about the subject. I think all of us have had good teachers. We went to class; we learned what we needed to learn; we took the test and got a good grade; and then we moved on to the next subject. I believe this used to be acceptable back in the days when I went to school. Most of our learning was teacher directed… we grew up in the “sit and get” era of teaching. Our teachers taught and our little brains absorbed the information… at least for a little while.

    With the new Net Generation of students, it is even more critical that we hire and cultivate great teachers. In my opinion a great teacher genuinely cares about his/her students and holds high expectations for them providing the support they need to be successful. These teachers instill in their students an “I Can Do It” attitude. A great teacher knows their content area, but is willing to admit to the students that they don’t know everything but can teach them out to find the answer. A great teacher varies their lessons so they are more student centered around authentic learning experiences. A great teacher stays on top of the best instructional strategies and doesn’t get stuck in the same way of teaching year after year. A great teacher understands that this generation of students is so very different than how we were and incorporates collaboration, multi-tasking, and technology into their lessons. A great teacher isn’t afraid to learn right alongside of their students (since most students have passed us on the technology scale). A great teacher knows their students and what their interests and struggles are. A great teacher loves their job and motivates their students to be life long learners on a quest for more and more knowledge. A great teacher challenges their students to think harder and deeper. A great teacher is a cheerleader, a coach, a team player all rolled into one.

  6. Matt, thanks for using this concept for our discussion this week. Your list of great teacher qualities is a comprehensive one, and I think that all teachers, at every level, should regularly take an inventory of their own approaches to learning and teaching to make sure they are striving to display these traits on a regular basis. And I think that most of them do! The greatest teachers that I have had, and there have been many, all displayed a clear passion, not only for their subject matter but also for the concept of the transformative power of education. They pushed me and my classmates to do our very best, regardless of the size and scope of the assignment. I still remember their names and carry their special lessons with me to this day. I use them as models for my own teaching methods. They were passionate, knowledgeable, kind-hearted, and clearly dedicated to their craft. I know that these traits are not quantifiable; you can’t measure them or test for them. But I know that students and parents can tell without fail which teachers truly care about educational excellence and those who don’t.

    You have no doubt already seen this video by Taylor Mali, but I think it is appropriate for our conversation here. I first saw this on Def Poetry Jam a few years ago, and it was a little bit more “blue”. This version is still pretty powerful:

  7. Scott Burmeister
    I too have considered what kind of teacher I have been over the 14 years I have spent in the classroom. I can remember times when I was great, a bunch of years when I was good, and in all honesty a period of time when I was less than good. After looking back I realize that the change in my teaching quality was a reflective of the changes in my life. Teachers are people too and as much as we try to check our personal lives at the door our life outside of school can lift us up and drag us down.

    I agree that great teachers not only teach their content but also teach life lessons to the kids in their classes. We have been around teaching long enough to know that teachers are a very diverse group. We can all think of teachers that run a classroom in opposite ways yet still do a fine job of teaching. It is in our diversity as a group, both teaching styles and classroom management styles, that we reach the most students. My classroom environment is fairly relaxed with a strict homework policy. If I am talking . . you are not. If we are working on homework . . you can choose to comment to a neighbor . . just get your homework done too. I may not connect with all of my student, and it is unrealistic to believe I would, but I hope that each student has one or more faculty members that they do connect with each day.

    I do believe that we should lead by example. Be on-time and have a classroom that looks organized and runs in an organized manner. If I expect the student to listen to me then I have to stop and give them good listener posture when they are talking. When tragedy strikes in a school, I have had three student suicides in my school, then it is important to let students know how serious it is and to let the day after have its full impact. Pretending nothing happened or just business as usual is not ok.

    I have had two students with cancer and they have been out for long periods. We make class get well cards and send them. It is what I would expect from my own family if someone was ill and so we model that same appropriate and caring behavior in class.

  8. I completely agree with Scott, teachers are people too. When I reflect back on the type of teacher that I have been my personal life does play a role. When I went back to work after maternity leave for my second child, I had an extremely hard time balancing work and home. My teaching suffered greatly but so did my home life because I was stressed about work . Your list is very comprehensive and the additions that every commented are great. I had to think hard to find something that wasn’t mentioned yet! But I think that great teachers never stop learning themselves and are willing to change as they learn. I recently competed a research project that had me look at my own teaching practices. It was a real eye opener. I think every teacher should have to research their own practices every few years to see how effective their teaching is. Eduction evolves as society evolves and I think that all of the teachers need to ‘keep up’ if they want to remain or become great teachers. The change that I would recommend for all teachers is what Jan had said…passion. Teachers need to be passionate about what they are doing or it will show in their teaching. Great discussion topic!

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