Five Traits of an Outstanding Teacher

When President Barrack Obama delivered his State of the Union address, one of his focal points was education. He noted, “When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.” According to a study on the National Bureau of Economic Research's website, effective teacher performance increases student achievement. But, just what is it that separates average teachers from outstanding teachers?


Outstanding teachers are flexible. They can move easily from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.” They may have detailed lesson plans for the day, but when something comes up that just has to be dealt with immediately, outstanding teachers are not only up to the challenge, they relish it. An outstanding teacher understands teachable moments and, when asked about them, can name their most exciting ones.


Great teachers know their material. They regularly take advantage of professional development opportunities so that they are conversant with the newest developments in their subject areas. They read educational journals, attend conferences, and consult with their colleagues. Math teachers, for example, must have a thorough understanding of their subject's content. If students just don't get an algorithm, an knowledgeable teacher will come back the next day and lead their students to understanding by using a different approach to the problem.

Stage Presence

Outstanding teachers have a commanding stage presence. It can be low-keyed or flashy, serious or funny, but effective stage presence means that students will be captivated by what's going on in the classroom and motivated to succeed. Teachers with effective stage presence communicate their passion for learning to their students.

Interpersonal Relationship Skills

Model teachers are able to form strong relationships with their students. They become more than just the deliverer of academic content; they become mentors and guides for life inside and outside the classroom. The best teachers know their students as individuals and are able to offer advice when needed and tailor learning to fit students' strengths and interests.


Teachers usually have between 20 and 30 students per class. They need to be able to work with grace under pressure and seamlessly coordinate a number of activities all occurring at once in the classroom. Outstanding teachers are prepared. There's no way around this. Teachers have to wing it occasionally for one reason or another, but they must have their lesson plans finished, their resources at hand, and an organizational plan ready to use for whatever unexpected situations may arise. Organized teachers are able to keep their students engaged, active and thinking.

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