There have often been questions about who is a teacher, what is teaching all about, what should be the characteristics of a teacher, what are the requirements of being a teacher, what kind of interactions should the teacher have with students, and so on. The answers to these questions can range from being simple and obvious to complex.

The first and foremost characteristic of a teacher should be a
passion for teaching. Teaching involves sharing of information, which more than the immediate relevance for students, in terms of helping in grades and completion of the syllabus, has long term significance with respect to learning and knowledge development.

The teacher should be passionate about sharing this information. The teacher needs to have that sense of excitement and enthusiasm about wanting to share relevant information. Only when that passion, excitement, and enthusiasm is there, it will have the long-term impact that is required. Otherwise, it will be just a random, casual way of giving out information, which is going to have very little significance.

Apart from being passionate about teaching, the teacher should be passionate about the subject or topic that he or she is teaching. Being passionate about the subject that the person is teaching, the teacher would always want to increase his or her knowledge related to it. The person would also enjoy talking about the subject, and will always have a sense of excitement about it.

All this will directly impact the quality of teaching. The ever-increasing knowledge and the excitement related to the subject, will enable the teacher to share all kinds of information with a great sense of enthusiasm and interest, making the classes worth attending for students. It will also inspire the students to learn more and more about the subject that they are being taught.

Since teaching involves sharing of information related to a particular topic, the teacher should have good communication and language skills. Here good communication skills do not necessarily mean being a completely outspoken person. Good communication skills, specifically with respect to teaching, would mean, making the content understandable for the students.

Whatever is being taught, if it is not understandable for the students, no matter how knowledgeable or enthusiastic the teacher is, it will make little sense and not serve the true purpose. The teacher should be able to try to explain the content in a simplistic manner.

Explaining all the theories and concepts, including the jargons in a simple way requires not just a deep understanding of the subject, but also highly competent communication skills. Transforming information that is highly advanced and technical, understanding it properly, and then describing it in a simple language, is certainly a skill that is not very easy, but it surely makes teaching highly effective. It helps students develop their knowledge to a great extent, and actually makes learning interesting for them.

Additionally, one thing that surely makes learning interesting for students is the teacher being creative in his or her way of teaching. Often it is believed that teaching is something that is not associated with creativity. This is, however, an inaccurate notion. In actuality, teaching requires a high level of creativity.

A lot of times, students are unable to connect with the material that is being taught. Attending classes continuously, the students tend to get tired and might be unable to have focus. Due to this, the classes, for the students might seem monotonous and boring. In such circumstances, making students learn becomes difficult, and teaching in a regular way may not always work. This is where the creativity of the teacher can play an important role.

The teacher, in such a scenario, needs to think of different, unique ways in order to develop the interest of students. One way is to bring in a little sense of humor, which helps a lot in breaking the monotony, especially when the subject matter can be technical and serious.

A good way of developing interest within the classroom is talk briefly about topics that may not be in the syllabus. The teacher can bring in such topics during the class and relate them to the topics that are there in the syllabus. This could be something that the teacher is fascinated about or it could be some real-life socio-political issue. This not only increases the knowledge and awareness of the students, but it also deepens the understanding of the subject matter.

The teacher, however, should have an understanding of when is the right time to talk about such topics. It should not seem to be forced. It should also be brought up only for a brief period of time, so that the focus remains on the main topic, and that it does not take up all the time. Using such creative ways in teaching brings out the uniqueness of the teacher, and can often be viewed as an extension of the personality of the teacher.

Further, a good way to maintain the interest of the students is to keep asking questions in between. This will keep the students alert, and will prevent them in losing focus from what is being taught. In this way, the students will also get an opportunity to express themselves and give their perspective.

Teaching, thus, should be a two-way communication process. It should not be a one-way process where only the teacher is speaking continuously, throughout the class. Making it a two-way process, also gives the teacher a necessary pause in between, which can make him or her reflect on what has to be said. The teacher can also take up something from what a student has said, and build on that, and take the class forward. This will make the students feel involved and be a part of the class.

A lot of this becomes easier, if the teacher is sensitive to many of the external cues in the surroundings. In this sense, teaching needs to be reactive and responsive. Teaching being a two-way process, means that a lot of times what is being said and how is it being said depends on how the students are receiving it.

This can happen if the teacher is sensitive to the mood, expressions, and body language of the students. (And it is because of this that when students keep their cameras off during online classes, it becomes a big disadvantage for the teacher.) Reading the expressions and body language of students in a class, becomes highly important, and it should determine how the class should be taken forward.

Sometimes when a teacher says something, there can be an expression of wonder or even a subtle smile, which can be encouraging for the teacher. The teacher, thus, gets an understanding of whether students are finding the content interesting or not. This understanding can further help the teacher get motived and excited, which will work well for the class, and the learning of the students.

Similarly, the feelings of boredom and tiredness can be perceived by the expressions and body language of the students. In such times, the teacher should be able alter his or her teaching, according to how the students are feeling. Here the teacher could try to bring in humor, or talk about some anecdote, and perhaps not delve too deeply into a concept for the moment. Thus, being sensitive to the subtle cues in the form of mood, expressions, and the body language of the students will help the teacher to sustain the attention of the students, and make the class a lot more interesting.

Further, being responsive to the moods and emotions of the students, reflects that the teacher is being considerate of the students’ perspective, and is showing concern towards them. This showing of concern by teachers is much appreciated by the students. This concern, of course, should not be limited to just being responsive to students’ feelings in the classroom.

Teachers in more of a general way also need to show concern towards the needs of the students, without compromising with the teaching part. Teachers should have more of a friendly attitude towards students. They should also try to take into consideration the individual differences of students, as much as possible.

This also includes not being biased towards some students or not showing any kind of favoritism in the classroom. Showing favoritism, often brings about the feeling of injustice among other students. It gives the feeling that perhaps the teacher is only concerned about a few students and does not care about the others, making them feel neglected. It can have a negative impact in creating a good learning environment.   

A lot of research suggests that if teachers show emphatic concern towards students, it creates an effective learning environment. Therefore, being considerate towards students makes them learn in a better way. This, however, does not mean that the teacher always has to be extremely lenient. When required, the teacher should also be able to assert a sense of discipline among students as well. This striking of a balance of being considerate and yet, making sure that the minimum requirements of the curriculum are fulfilled, becomes very important for making students learn in a proper manner.

One of the most important aspect of teaching is that the teacher should be emphasizing on developing conceptual understanding and critical thinking among students. For this, however, the teacher himself or herself needs to have the ability of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is corrective thinking, being curious, wanting to know more, doubting and questioning existing knowledge, challenging beliefs, and examining multiple facets of the same information. It is about evaluating and analyzing thinking in order to improve it. It involves always trying to look for new information, having a critical perspective, and being as unbiased as possible, always relying on facts. Having such an outlook will inspire students to learn more and more, and not study just for the purpose of the examination.

Teachers can use different ways to develop such critical thinking among students. For instance, the teacher can give assignments to students, which do not have a straightforward answer. Instead, it would require the students to think deeply, think out-of-the-box, and try to have a good understanding of the topic.

Apart from that, students could be asked to differentiate between similar concepts, compare different perspectives, find similarities between two seemingly opposite perspectives, and look for both advantages and disadvantages of existing theories and concepts. Additionally, students should be encouraged to understand the origins of ideas, which includes trying to understand theories and concepts in their socio-cultural-historical context.

Developing critical thinking among students certainly helps them in a deep understanding of the subject, which further enhances their interest and motivation to learn. In the long run, the students are able to use this critical thinking in broader areas of life. It enables them to understand the complexities of society, develop purpose in life, add to their personal growth, eventually enabling to become mature, sensible, sensitive, and broad-minded individuals.

Finally, something that is often not given much relevance, teachers should have a good aptitude and interest for research. Teaching and research are many-a-times considered to be separate entities; they are considered to be mutually exclusive. It is often suggested that a good teacher does not necessarily have to be a good researcher, and that a good researcher may not necessarily be a good teacher.

In contrary to this, teaching and research, actually, always go hand-in-hand. The knowledge, skills, and insights that one develops through research certainly helps to enhance teaching abilities. They can in no way be unrelated. Research helps in developing a strong critical perspective and analytical abilities that are very useful in being an effective teacher.

Teaching is not just about completion of the syllabus and preparing students to get better marks/grades. Teaching is actually about developing a critical perspective, among students, making them deeply understand, and question, motivating them to gain more knowledge about the subject, helping to express their ideas creatively, helping them realize their true potential, inspiring them to reach out to their goals, and making them develop meaning and purpose in their life.

On the whole, being an effective teacher involves a passion and enthusiasm for learning and sharing what one has learned, self-expression, creativity, sensitivity, and having meaningful interactions with students. These characteristics will undoubtedly make students realize the true significance of learning, create a better learning environment, and inspire students to keep on learning and enhance their knowledge, actually make them believe that education is a never-ending process.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

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