When you think back on your own education, there’s probably a teacher who stands out as an exceptional source of encouragement and inspiration. Maybe it was a college professor who inspired you to change your career field — or, maybe it was a kindergarten teacher whose simple acts of kindness made a positive difference in your childhood. But no matter what grade you were in or what subject you were studying, chances are your favorite teacher possessed many of the skills and characteristics that are featured on this list, which breaks down the qualities of a good teacher in detail.
Read on as we explore 29 of the top character traits and teaching skills that educators need in 2032 and beyond. We’ve also included an overview of the credentials, degrees, and qualifications that are required to become a teacher, both in California and out of state. Whether it’s a skill you need to brush up on, a credential you need to earn, or maybe even a character trait you want to work on developing, this guide offers dozens of ideas for areas where you can start improving as an educator — and start improving your resume at the same time.
What Makes a Good Teacher?
Whether they’re teaching advanced calculus or how to count to 10, effective teachers share certain universal traits in common. For example, all great educators have the ability to listen actively — not only to their students, but also to their colleagues, school administrators, and students’ family members.
We’ll talk more about active listening and why it matters below, along with 14 other traits that teachers should try to exemplify. While some are less tangible than others — and potentially, more challenging to cultivate — all of them are equally worthwhile for teachers to actively develop and practice. Read on as we break down more than a dozen of the most important traits for educators, including:
- Active listening
- Focus on growth
- Lifelong learning
The Top 14 Qualities that Make a Good Teacher
You don’t need to have a specific personality type to be an inspiring and effective teacher. However, there are some useful traits you should work on developing or strengthening if your goal is to be a more engaging and successful educator.
Adaptability is a must for teachers, who need to continuously evaluate what’s working for their students — and even more importantly, what isn’t working. Being adaptable and flexible allows you to flow between different theories of learning and modes of teaching — something we’ll discuss momentarily — without becoming immobilized by stress or indecision.
Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is feeling or experiencing — put simply, putting yourself in another person’s shoes. As a teacher, it’s vital to practice empathy instead of making assumptions — for instance, making efforts to understand and address the root issue that’s causing a student to fall behind their peers, perform more poorly than they used to, or lash out in class.
Patience is important both to possess and to model for your students — who, as we discussed in our post on theories of learning, may view you as a role model and emulate your behavior. Having a reserve of patience will make it easier for you to work through each student’s unique struggles and challenges, which may be difficult or slow-going to overcome.
Students are perceptive from an extremely young age and can easily tell when teachers are bored by or apathetic toward their own material. If you want to generate engagement and enthusiasm in your class, it’s imperative to exemplify those traits yourself, showing your students an infectious passion for learning — and all the exciting discoveries and hobbies that it can unlock for them!
5. Active Listening
Active listening is vital if you want to effectively diagnose and help overcome students’ unique obstacles and challenges. Seek feedback, encourage honesty, provide ways for students to contact you easily, and be attentive whenever you listen, always trying to read between the lines and assess body language while you’re communicating. Learn more about how and why you should improve your active listening skills.
6. Lifelong Learning
The best educators aren’t just interested in teaching — they also have a passion for lifelong learning, which is reflected in their enthusiasm and engagement as instructors. Continued learning and professional development deliver invaluable insight, keeping professionals “sharp” and reminding teachers of the real-world challenges that their students may be facing — creating a pathway for greater empathy. Discover more about the importance of lifelong learning and how different theories of learning could help you teach — or understand — new information.
7. Free of Bias
As an educator, you’ll be responsible for teaching an extraordinarily wide range of students. To combat inequality and discrimination and ensure fairness, you need to assess your students’ needs in a way that is free from bias — something that requires you to continuously check in with your own judgments and assumptions about others.
8. Respectful Attitude
Even in classrooms of adult learners, there’s still an inherent imbalance of power that exists between students and teachers. It’s imperative for educators to be mindful of this imbalance and ensure that students feel respected and heard for the people they are and what they contribute to the classroom.
Creativity goes hand in hand with adaptability — another key trait we explored on this list. Whether you teach first graders or doctoral students, you’ll need the ability to innovate, think outside the box, and find novel solutions to challenges, which will empower you to meet a wider range of students’ needs. Being creative as an educator will also help you to foster creativity in your students — an essential skill they’ll need for countless career paths.
From parent-teacher conferences and department meetings to teaching dozens or hundreds of students every day, education is an intensely collaborative field by nature, involving a constant interplay between students, teachers, administrators, and family members. If your goal is to become an educator or transition into an educational leadership position, you’ll need strong collaborative skills to ensure you can work well with others consistently.
In line with being flexible and adaptable, it’s important to be prepared for a wide range of scenarios and challenges in the classroom. You can increase your overall level of preparedness as an educator by learning about your students’ strengths and challenges, and ensuring that you consider how each of your students could be affected by your lesson plans.
12. Promote a Growth Mindset
In 2006, psychologist Carol Dweck introduced the concept of “growth mindsets” vs. “fixed mindsets” in her book Mindset: The Psychology of Success. According to Dweck, individuals with a fixed mindset perceive assets like intelligence as being determined early in life, which can cause obstacles or challenges to seem insurmountable or overwhelming. In contrast to a fixed mindset, individuals who have a growth mindset believe that traits like intelligence and creativity can be developed with practice.
13. Meet Students Where They Are
Your students will come to you from different backgrounds, skill sets, and challenges — and you need to be ready to meet them, whichever point they’ve reached in their learning. That means having the ability to accommodate students who learn at different paces, using different styles and methods, within the same classroom or group. This is another area where traits like adaptability, empathy, and patience come into play for educators.
14. Cross-Discipline Teaching
Drawing on multiple subjects and disciplines shows students how businesses operate — and how problem-solving works — in the real world, grounding their learning in practical real-life scenarios.
If you don’t possess all of these traits already, don’t panic — just be mindful that there may be some areas where you could benefit from a little practice. Whether your goal is to tune up weak skills, refine strong ones, or develop new abilities, a degree or credential program provides the perfect opportunity to acquire the qualifications and experience you need to go further in your chosen career path.
A Good Teacher Starts with a Solid Education
Here are just a few of the teaching credentials or degrees that graduate and undergraduate students can pursue at National University. Each option combines rigorous coursework and research with an academic seminar or field experience component, where the student has the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of — and ability to apply — the subject material they’ve covered throughout the program.
Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE)
The Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education at National University is an NCATE-accredited degree program that may be completed online or on-campus. Coursework covers topics such as Early Cognition; Early Language and Literacy; Observing, Assessing, and Planning; Children with Special Needs; Designing Emergent Curriculum; and Nature, Numbers, and Technology. For additional details about the program, explore the BAECE program page or contact our admissions office to request more information.
Master of Arts in Education (MAE)
The Master of Arts in Education, or MAE, is an NCATE-accredited program with the option to conveniently complete coursework online. The MAE is designed for students who want to acquire field experience, conduct original research, and build on their undergraduate degree with a rigorous, high-level study of the historical, philosophical, psychological, and social foundations of today’s education industry. Program coursework includes topics such as Early Childhood Education Learning and Development; Foundations of Adult Learners; Community Development in Higher Education; Media Rich Instruction; Identity, Inclusion, and Equity; and Applied Critical Thinking. To learn more about the online or on-campus MAE program at National University, get in touch with our enrollment counselors today.
Inspired Teaching and Learning with a Preliminary Teaching Credential
National University offers both Single Subject and Multiple Subject Teaching Credentials, along with a wide variety of additional teaching credentials to help you reach your goals. The credential you need depends on the classes or grade levels you intend to teach and in what state, along with other factors. For example, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), you’ll need a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential to become an elementary school teacher, whereas anyone who “want[s] to teach in high school in California must earn a Single Subject Teaching Credential.” Finally, “Individuals who want to teach special education students in California must earn an Education Specialist Instruction Credential,” per CTC guidelines.
Keeping Your Teaching Skills Fresh with Professional Development
According to the online education resource Teaching-Certificate, “Although the…California Commission on Teacher Credentialing used to require 150 hours of professional growth to renew a clear credential, clear credentials may now be renewed without verifying any professional or continuing education requirements.” However, that doesn’t mean educators should overlook opportunities for continued learning. While no longer a CTC requirement, continuing education has several benefits for teachers and school administrators, like increasing your marketability, providing you with professional networking opportunities, and creating a path to learn and practice new skills — while keeping your old ones up-to-date.
Before we look at these skills in closer detail, it’s important to point out that the CTC requirements above are specific to California, and that the continuing education or professional development requirements for educators may differ in your state. For example, the state of Nevada requires educators to complete “15 hours each calendar year of professional development or the equivalent of in-service training.” Be sure to check with the credentialing organization in your state, like California’s Commission on Teaching Credentialing, to ensure you meet the criteria for maintaining and renewing your teaching license.
15 Soft and Hard Skills Important for Teachers to Develop
As an educator, you meet a new group of students every year — and every year, there are new developments around the science and psychology of learning. In short, students’ needs change over time, like the way that social media and mobile devices have become key learning tools among Gen Z students compared to previous generations. The student population is also becoming more diverse, not only in terms of race but also disability, along with international students and online students.
The bottom line for educators? In the face of a changing industry and student population, along with the growing importance of educational technology, teachers need to develop — and maintain — a wide range of skills to keep up. So what are the essential hard and soft skills of a teacher, and what sorts of credentials and qualifications does an educator need to obtain? Here are 15 examples, including seven hard skills and eight soft skills for teachers to master.
- Ability to practice varied teaching modes and methods
- Administrative skills
- Classroom management skills
- Computer and technological skills
- Educational degrees and qualifications
- Emotional intelligence
- Leadership skills
- Knowledge of the curriculum
- Problem-solving skills
- Teaching certificates and credentials
- Time management skills
- Work ethic
- Writing and grammar skills
8 Important Soft Skills for Teachers
Important soft skills for teachers include time management skills, leadership skills, having a strong work ethic, problem solving abilities, high emotional intelligence, and possessing the knowledge and adaptability needed to employ a variety of teaching modes and methods.
1. Communication — Verbal, nonverbal, and written communication are fundamental for any educator. Not only does clear communication enable you to learn about your students, how they learn, and what challenges or motivates them most — it also empowers you to dialogue with parents and families, share information with your colleagues and administrators more productively, and create a more inclusive environment for students from diverse backgrounds.
2. Time Management —You expect your students to complete their assignments on time — so it’s vital that you model the same skills. Effective time management, which you can read tips about here, will help you ensure that tasks like grading papers, composing quizzes, and meeting with students are completed in a timely fashion that aligns with your curriculum and lesson plan calendar.
3. Strong Work Ethic — Teachers can be expected to carry heavy workloads. It’s essential to possess a strong work ethic to help you manage the demands of the role.
4. Problem Solving — From unexpected technical issues to bullying and conflicts between students, teachers are frequently confronted with unplanned situations that need to be resolved so that learning can continue. You’ll need robust problem-solving skills to ensure that you’re prepared to address a wide range of impediments to learning.
5. Leadership — From the renowned scholar leading a master’s-level course, to the kindergarten teacher leading their class together in a singing exercise, teachers are leaders for their students. You’ll need strong leadership skills to keep your students organized, engaged, and on-task while demonstrating respectful attitudes toward their instructors and peers.
6. Variety of Teaching Methods — Teachers need the ability to employ a variety of teaching methods to meet students’ equally varied needs, ranging from teacher-directed (like lectures and worked examples) to student-directed (like collaborative and project-based learning). For example, it’s important to be familiar with traditional methods of learning vs. inquiry-based learning. You can learn more about teaching methods and how to implement them in our guide to theories of learning.
7. Variety of Teaching Modes — Educators should be familiar with — and develop teaching strategies that are adapted to — the various VARK “modalities of learning,” an acronym that refers to “Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic” modes of learning. You can read more about VARK modalities here.
8. Emotional Intelligence — Emotional intelligence is a broad term that describes a person’s ability to understand, analyze, and manage their own emotional responses. Emotional intelligence is critical for teachers, who need to maintain professionalism and demonstrate leadership even when placed under high-pressure, high-stress situations.
7 Important Hard Skills for Teachers
Examples of important hard skills for teachers to develop and hone include computer skills and technological competence, classroom management skills, administrative skills, writing and grammar skills, and thorough knowledge and understanding of the curriculum. Educators also need to obtain the appropriate certificates, credentials, degrees, and additional qualifications, which we’ll discuss briefly below.
1. Computer and Technology Skills — Computers and other technology play increasing roles in education, a topic we explored in our article on educational technology. Technological proficiency is vital for teachers in any subject, especially if you plan on teaching online or media-rich courses.
2. Classroom Management — Conveying information is only part of your job as an educator. You’re also responsible for managing your classroom and student behavior, particularly for educators who teach younger children. Classroom management skills are essential for maintaining an inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment that supports learning for all of your students.
3. Administrative Skills — Administrative skills include skills such as strategic thinking, strong organization and time management, and the ability to lead effectively while communicating clearly. These types of skills are useful for both school administrators and educators, with several (like time management) receiving their own places on this list!
4. Writing and Grammar Skills — It isn’t just English or creative writing teachers who need a firm grasp of grammar and spelling. You’ll need strong writing skills for routine tasks like emailing parents and administrators, correcting students’ assignments, sharing demonstrations on the board, and possibly even requesting grants or other funding.
5. Certificates and Credentials — In addition to earning your degree, you’ll also need to earn certain certificates and credentials depending on factors like where and what you’d like to teach. For example, to quote the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), “Individuals who want to teach in high school in California must earn a Single Subject Teaching Credential.” For more detailed information on that subject, we recommend exploring our overview of multiple and single subject teacher education credentials available at National University.
6. Qualifications and Degrees — Most teaching positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with certain types of teaching positions or academic employers requiring a master’s or even doctoral degree. National University offers a range of accredited online and on-campus degree programs in education to help prepare you for a career in teaching or school administration, like preparing you for professional exam requirements. Learn more about the process of becoming a teacher, or explore the state’s requirements for becoming a teacher in California.
7. Curricular Knowledge — It’s essential to have extensive and in-depth knowledge of your curriculum so that you can lead meaningful discussions and help your students connect larger ideas together. For example, you’ll need to be fluent in any foreign language that you intend to teach.
These are just a few of the many examples of good teacher qualities and skills to possess — no matter what subject you teach or at what grade level. Discover more about what it takes to become an educator by applying to a credential or degree program at National University today.
The Journey to Becoming a Good Teacher
Teaching begins with learning. Do both at the same time by earning your teaching degree or credential from National University. Through the Sanford College of Education, we offer a wide range of teacher credentials, associate’s degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs, and master’s degree programs — all with regional accreditation, financial aid options for students, and the ability to complete coursework partially or 100% online.
Follow your passion while making an impact on young (or not-so-young) minds. Talk to our admissions counselors about applying to National University and enrolling in our BAECE, MAE, or other teaching credentials and degree programs.