7 Characteristics of a Great Preschool Teacher
A great teacher is worth their weight in gold. Back when I was a Director, when we found a good teacher we always tried our best to hold on tight. Even today as I read through my director’s facebook groups i can see that it continues to be a hot topic. The truth is, teaching is a demanding job that requires many skills and attributes. So what should I aspire for if I want to be a great teacher or if I’m looking to add a great teacher to my childcare team?
In my experience there are several characteristics that make a great teacher stand out in a crowd. While some of these things are innate, many can be developed over time. Let’s explore 7 characteristics and habits of a great preschool teacher that will not only help in hiring great talent, but will inspire you and your colleagues to be the best you can be in your own teaching!
1. Always welcomes the children with a smile
The impact of a smile is not always fully appreciated. in fact The Huffington Post explains what a simple smile can do by showing how a little smile can achieve a lot by projecting a positive image to others while helping you remain calm. Smiles also boost social interaction by making you appear more approachable, all while making you feel happier and healthier. What better way is there for kids to start the day than to be greeted by a smiling teacher!
2. Know each child and their parents/siblings by name
There is so much power in calling people by their names. We are all unique individuals but this is something that as a culture we have started to take for granted. I know for myself, remembering all of the children in my classroom may have been easy, but remembering their parent’s names was a struggle. When we put the time in to commit a name to memory and call someone by that name, we are telling them that they matter and their individual needs are important to us.
3. Seeks to better themselves professionally and personally
A great teacher is someone who never stops learning. Education and learning practices are always changing. My best teachers were the ones that always followed up on new teaching trends, while avoiding throwing out what’s worked in the past. I’ll never forget when one of my star teachers took a Chinese class because one of her 2 year olds couldn’t speak English. I just love that she found an area she needed to learn more about and took the initiative to do it on her own time, all to improve the learning experience of a child in her care.
4. Cares deeply about each child individually
From my own personal experience as a teacher and director I have seen all kinds of children come through preschool and childcare centers. Some are a joy and others a challenge, but when we know the children in our class on a personal level it allows us to have more grace and understanding for them. It is much easier to be upset, frustrated or even personally insulted when we are not connected at a deep level with a child. A great teacher gets to know each one of the children in their classroom. They know what bothers them and what lights a spark in their eye, and this lets the child know that they are not just a number, but that you care for them and want to see them succeed both now and in the future.
5. Gets down to the child’s level
It is well known that standing over someone looking down is a sign of dominance. Body language is an important part of non-verbal communication and whether we realize it or not, children are quite adept at picking up non-verbal cues. For this reason, in order to really connect with a child it is so important to get down to their level and speak to them face to face. Since as teachers we are naturally much taller than our students, we need to be mindful of changing our natural posture in order to get down to their level when talking with them. Some great ways to do this include sitting on the carpet for reading or discussion, bending down to say hi or even lying on the floor to meet a baby’s eye. Being on the same level of children makes them feel safer and more connected to you, and this lays the foundation of trust and mutual respect that forms between great teachers and the students in their care.
6. Brings their personal passions into the classroom
Children learn best when the person who is teaching them is interested in the topic. I love love love when my teachers bring their passions into the classroom. The truth is, with a bit of creativity you can learn the basics of math, english and literature doing almost anything. If you are passionate about cooking, how about teaching with baking? If you are passionate about art, how about hands-on fun? If Karaoke’s your passion, why not sing them a song? When a teacher is engaged and having fun the children will be too and that’s a recipe for success.
7. They are flexible
If you have ever stepped foot into a preschool (or any) classroom you know that flexibility is key. Sometimes an activity you have planned may not work out in the way you thought or the children are engaging for longer (or shorter) than you thought. The key is to plan well but be flexible with that plan. As the day goes along let the children direct each step. Make sure you have lots planned, but be willing to adjust on the fly and take advantage of teachable moments when they come up. Many beautiful moments are missed by rigidly sticking to plan, so don’t let that be you. Of course plans are important but remember that they are not always the most important - developing a life-long love of learning is the real goal, and that’s much more attainable when we will modify instruction to match your specific class and circumstances.
Let’s be honest, we don’t all naturally exhibit the 7 habits of successful teachers. But if you excel at one or two or three, why not try to develop one or two or three more? Developing strong habits as a teacher can take some work, especially if you have some bad habits to replace. But it will be totally worth it for you and your students. I hope this post gave you some ideas of areas to work on and maybe some encouragement as well. Being a teacher is hard work and only few are truly cut out for the work. If you are a teacher and you’re reading this, you obviously want to better yourself and become a better teacher, so you’re well on your way already! I want to take a moment to say thank you for investing in our children and our future. I hope you find fulfillment and joy in your job and I want you to know that i’m always here to help. Feel free to check out my other posts to find your ‘why’ and for more tips and tricks for teaching and directing at your childcare centre or preschool!