How to Spot a Great Teacher

Advice from an Admission Director

As you visit area schools to observe teachers, you may be asking yourself, “What should I look for when evaluating a teacher and school’s faculty?” If you have thought this, know that you are not alone. For many of us, it’s been several years since we have been in the classroom.

Prior to becoming a director of admission I was a classroom teacher for more than 20 years. I had the privilege to work with, observe, and learn from some truly gifted educators. When you see a remarkable teacher in action, it is awe-inspiring. Here are a few key things to look for that signal you’ve found a faculty member or teaching team that stands above the rest.

Enthusiastic Sharers
People who love what they do are passionate, and teachers should be the best example of that. Whether teachers are talking to you or their students, you should feel their sense of wonder, joy, and excitement about the subject they are teaching. If you get the sense that you or their students are bothering them instead, then something is not right. Great teachers want to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with others. Their classroom should also reflect their inspiration and spark the curiosity of all those who enter it as well.

Creative Problem Solvers
Teachers who excel anticipate challenges and have a toolbox full of ways to overcome those challenges. Whether they have a great sense of humor to re-engage a student who is struggling or can apply a variety of teaching methods to meet this child where they are, they never, ever give up. Great teachers would never succeed as old-fashioned bureaucrats—they thrive in situations that demand quick thinking and novel solutions.

Audience Experts & Conductors
A great teacher knows how to pace the lesson content based on their students’ age, the time of day, and depth of information they need to cover. They know how long they will be able to hold their student’s attention, when to stop and take a break, and what activity to add into the lesson to energize the classroom experience. They are maestros at what they do, making teaching look easy to the observer.

Active Learners
Research shows that engaged and informed teachers can be one of the most important school-related factors influencing student success. Top teachers constantly learn today’s best practices so that they may utilize those tactics, tips, and tools to support and nurture their students. For example, WES regularly hosts nationally recognized education experts to conduct onsite demonstration class lessons, facilitate discussions with teachers around best practices in instruction, and share methods about how to create high achievers in specific subject areas. Our school actively supports our faculty’s professional development, and our faculty holds these opportunities dear.

At Washington Episcopal School we are lucky to have many award-winning faculty who instruct every day, serve as mentors to our newer staff, and lead professional development sessions for faculty here and at other schools. They work hard to make connections with our students and to instill a love of learning. After meeting our faculty on our school tours, at back to school night, and other community events, parents and guardians often tell me, “Wow, I wish I could go back to school!” After you visit a school, you should feel the same way too. If you don’t, then maybe it is time to widen your search or ask to come back for another tour or campus event.

The investment of time and money in an independent school education is too great for you not to be excited about your children’s school day. Every child deserves to have teachers who make a difference in their life. Your job as a parent is to put your child in a school situation that makes that happen.