30 Traits of Exceptional Teachers

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We are surrounded by great teachers every day.  But what makes an exceptional teacher?!  We polled our colleagues from the Fearless First Grade Teacher Group and they shared traits of exceptional teachers!  How many of these traits do you have?

A Great Teacher includes themes in their instruction to make learning fun for students.

An Exceptional Teacher creates thematic units, where all subjects are integrated and combined to allow for better connections when learning.

“I look at the big picture of what needs to be learned in each subject area and then try to find common themes.  When you are able to integrate the same vocabulary and concepts across content areas, students are better able to make connections and think on a deeper level.” ~ Janessa F.

“Themes make my teaching so much easier.  I am able to teach deeper concepts and not be stuck to “the time clock” with each subject.  Subjects are able to flow into each other while still teaching the same concepts.” ~ Caitlin G.

“Being an exceptional teacher takes experience, intentional growth, and heart. You’ve got to be willing to step out of your comfort zone, and give it everything you’ve got no matter how many years you’ve been teaching.” -Emily G.

Exceptional Teachers Provide a Culturally Responsive Classroom Environment

“The most important thing is to make kids feel welcomed and included.” ~ Georgia S.

“Keep a culturally eclectic classroom library, and promote a couple books a week for the whole class. These don’t have to be for grades, but they could be used for sustained reading. Don’t just have the library available. Talk to all of your students about the books and what they’re about. Encourage them to check them out from you for a week at a time. Sometimes kids are more likely to read books that have been promoted to them than just trying to find one in the school library.” ~ Deb B.

“Display culturally relevant images in the classroom so that students with no English can still *feel* the support is there. (small national flags, postcards from various countries, a welcome sign in multiple languages, etc.)” ~ Caitlin M.

“Understand the difference in family home structure and culture. Educate your classroom on the different kinds of homes people have and how they might have different family members living with them.” ~ Cassandra H.

“Check your middle class ideologies and remember that because people don’t act or live like you do. Doesn’t make them less than you. All parents/people are doing the best they can with the choices they have.” ~ Lorraine M.

“Recognize that “giftedness” looks different across different races, cultures, and experiences. Help close the “excellence gap” by recognizing and trying to remedy the systemic biases in the processes by which we identify students for advanced placement and GT programs. Our students of color and ELLs are falling through the cracks with regards to these opportunities.” ~ Morgan F.

A Great Teacher has copies made and lesson plans ready at the beginning of the week.

An Exceptional Teacher has materials prepared, but takes cues from their students and adjusts lesson plans and sequence based on those needs.

“Knows each child’s strengths and areas that need growth….has high expectations for all kids.” ~ Caroline B-S.

“Relatable and one who can connect with the students. One who can find ways to teach outside of the box. Doesn’t mind being silly and fun.” ~ Danica R-K.

“They listen and know that every child is unique and teaching in a cookie cutter way will not work for all.” ~ Karen C.

“Teaches students, not curriculum.” ~ Amy B.
“I’m always ready to switch around lesson sequence based on the needs of my students.  In the end, we will get to the learning target, regardless of the path we took.” ~ Anne L.

A Great Teacher knows their curriculum and follows the correct scope and sequence.

An Exceptional Teacher flawlessly embeds supplemental materials to enhance the learning experience of their students.

“An exceptional teacher will use every tool, strategy, and curriculum in their repertoire-even if it is not provided by their school-because she knows that students learn in different ways.” ~ Lora M.

“Compassion and knowledge of curriculum.” ~ Amaris S.

“I am always in search of supplemental hands-on materials to support my curriculum.  I love adding mentor texts from a variety of authors, centers for literacy and math, and hands-on discovery stations in science.” ~ Janessa F.

“Creative and can differentiate just to name 2 of many more traits!” ~ Michelle V-E.

“Include learning activities that require collaboration, critical thinking, and positive peer feedback.” ~ Maria M.

“Make sure that you have books from cultures of your students and authors and books whose characters that represent your students! Make sure that you are not just celebrating only Christian winter holidays (I’m hard-pressed to celebrate any holidays in school but if you do please consider adding in more culturally relevant holidays.) I also think that it is important to have a dialogue and plan of action of when Ramadan falls during the school year. I had students who were fasting while also taking our state test.” ~ Megan C.

A Great Teacher understands that there may be interruptions during the day and adjusts accordingly.

An Exceptional Teacher has other learning opportunities prepared and ready for those days where unannounced interruptions occur.

“Flexible and easily adaptable.” ~ Lynsey B.

“Flexible, humble, empathetic, has to love what they do…or the kids will feel it!!” ~ Gina V-R.

“I live for ‘teachable moments’.  Interruptions allow for opportunities to teach outside of the box and not from the curriculum guides.” ~ Jennifer H.

“Sometimes the best learning opportunities come from the lessons that aren’t on the plans.” ~ Jenn S.

“Intentional and purposeful in word and action.” ~ Denise O-B.

 

A Great Teacher creates relationships with their students and their families.

An Exceptional Teacher creates those relationships and goes the extra mile to understand the culture of the students within their classroom.  Those cultures are evident in classroom decor, literature, and curriculum.

“By caring the extra mile, remembering that the kids are much more than a student in your class. Meet the other facets of who they are. Partner up with families from the start.” ~ Shirley F-T.

“We have the power to transform a child: Helping them realize how loved, valued & important they are. When they feel this love, they can change the world!” ~ Alyssa Q.

“Believing in your students and bringing out their strengths while supporting and strengthening their deficits. Appreciate what they bring to the table without expectations of perfection. Being flexible and to continue to be a learner. A great quality is collaboration without bringing your ego. They are “our” kids, we have the same end goal for all of them, success 💕. ~ Gina V-R.

“An exceptional teacher builds relationships with her students and families beyond the walls of the classroom. When families and students feel safe and welcomed, children will want to learn and you will see so much success.” ~ Lana B-P.

“Empathy. Teachers need to understand their students, their families, and what’s going on in their lives. Not to judge them, but to understand them, and figure out how to best meet their needs. Toss in a good dose of enthusiasm, optimism, and the belief that all children are capable of reaching their potential and beyond.” ~ Karen K.

“Genuine communication with parents, relationships with students where you know more than just their best friends name, teaching with passion and uniqueness.” ~ Araceli V.

 Get to Know Your Students

“Begin the year with an activity that lets you get to know each student, and also lets them get to know each other. A suggestion: Each student cuts a piece of paper into a “frame” and writes about themself around the frame, include information like family members, favorite food, color, animals, etc., what they like in school, sports, games, hobbies, etc., what they want to be when they grow up… When they are done making their frames, they share out at their table area. At the end of the activity, the teacher collects the frames, so she can study them and learn something about her class. MAKE SURE THE STUDENTS HAVE WRITTEN THEIR NAMES ON THEIR FRAME!” 🤩 ~ Jennifer N-V.

“Learn about each student and what makes them special and reference that during the lesson. Their interests, talents, pets, etc.” ~ Olga S-K.

“Have students share to the class something of their culture. Map. Customs. Food. Traditions. Language.” ~ Helen M-S.

“Build relationships with your students and ask questions. They love to answer, and it shows that you have a genuine interest in them. Make an effort to learn from them, as they are learning from you. Speak to them in their native language when you can. Remember details and point them out. Just make sure they know you care for them.” ~ Amber L-M.

A Great Teacher creates a classroom community where students are respected and valued.

An Exceptional Teacher includes their students in the community building process.  They ask for input on rules and procedures, spend time outside of the classroom with students (during lunch/recess), and allow students to facilitate learning.

“Be a facilitator, not the Queen of the Classroom.” ~ Kelly M-W.

“Being consistent, loving, and always make sure your students know you believe in them. ❤” ~ Jodi D.

“I believe building relationships with your students is first and foremost! Get to know them…who they are, what they like, where they come from, who supports them, what inspires them, scares them, etc.”     ~ Tina O-M.

“Honestly. One word…relationships!” ~ Erin O-D.

“Build relationships with your students & families! I have been teaching for 40 years & the passion is STILL there!😊. Celebrate the steps taken by your kids, both big & little-a step forward is great!”              ~ Noleen C.

“Relationships matter. Kids will not learn from someone they don’t trust and respect. That doesn’t mean you let them rule the class. It means you set clear boundaries, follow through and work with them as a team to help them reach goals.” ~ April T.

“Empathy, truly understanding children and their behavior/choices. Genuine, wanting to help them succeed and see them flourish. Positive, not only with the students but coworkers as well.” ~ Karrigan F.

 Willing to Change Biases

“Recognize that “giftedness” looks different across different races, cultures, and experiences. Help close the “excellence gap” by recognizing and trying to remedy the systemic biases in the processes by which we identify students for advanced placement and GT programs. Our students of color and ELLs are falling through the cracks with regards to these opportunities.” ~ Morgan F.

“Also understand about different cultures to not expect everyone to act Anglo-Saxon just because they know the rules. In some cultures, children don’t make eye contact, say ma’am or can be louder than what some expect.” ~ Cindy H-P.

“Understand the difference in family home structure and culture. Educate your classroom on the different kinds of homes people have and how they might have different family members living with them.” ~ Cassandra H.

“Check your middle class ideologies and remember that because people don’t act or live like you do. Doesn’t make them less than you. All parents/people are doing the best they can with the choices they have.” ~ Lorraine M.

“Understand the culture of the students you are working with and their families.” ~ Benjamin T-B.

 

A Great Teacher attends staff development and tries new techniques learned.

An Exceptional Teacher self-reflects on their instruction, adjusting lesson plans daily to meet the needs of their students, while using best practices learned during trainings.

“Make sure you make time for yourself. If you aren’t 100%, you can’t give your kids your all. Also don’t be afraid to fail. Your first year of teaching is going to happen, give yourself grace and don’t be afraid to try something new. You will always learn from your mistakes.” ~ Caroline M.

“Someone who is willing to learn, to change, and to try new things. Someone who knows that just because “we’ve always done it this way” doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it that way. Also someone who is a team player and is there for the benefit of all kids, not just those kids in his/her classroom.” ~ Jennifer H.

“An exceptional teacher sees growth and change as a super power.” ~ Annde M.

“The love and passion a teacher has about what they are doing every single day! You have to love what you’re doing and know that even though it might not always feel like it, you are making a difference in all of your students lives!” ~ Mercedes A.

“Reflection, reflection, reflection!! If you end every day thinking about what worked and what didn’t work, how you could do better or adjust something you did to meet the needs of you students, if you’re always striving to try or learn something new… that makes you a great teacher. That goes for your instruction, your interactions with children and families, working with colleagues, everything. Self-awareness and self-reflection makes exceptional teachers.” ~ Christine M.

“Self reflection on your lessons and student data.” ~ Christina Z.

“A lifelong learner, good classroom management and someone who makes learning fun.” ~ Kimberly H.

 Exceptional Teachers Become a Student

“When I taught third grade in a school where the majority of my students were Hispanic, they taught me a daily word or phrase in Spanish. They loved *teaching their teacher* and it brought us closer as I learned more about their language. A win-win. The school also sponsored an International Night where students and families dressed in their native clothing, brought in food from their culture, and shared interesting facts about their culture and their traditions. It was such a success!” ~ Bev L.

“Allow students to have a voice; I have learned so much from my students themselves when I allowed them to be themselves without bias.” ~ Heather S-C.

“One of my students was teaching me the Arabic alphabet. He was teaching me how to write and pronounce the letters before we went to distance learning.” ~ Peg B.

“Spell their names correctly. Learn a couple simple words in other languages that your students speak, especially in a younger classroom.” ~ Susan T.

Exceptional Teachers accomplish incredible goals with little to no resources.

Thank you to all of the exceptional teachers out there who are making a difference in the lives of our children.  You come to work every day ready to accomplish amazing things.  We would love to hear your words of wisdom and great ideas.  Please share in the comments below.  We learn the most from our peers, and want to hear all of the exceptional things you are doing in your classrooms!

-Written by Janessa Fletcher

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Welcome! I’m Emily, Founder of Education to the Core. We are all about helping K-2 teachers by providing unlimited access to affordable printables for every subject area.