The Most Important Trait a Teacher Should Possess

“Who Was Your Favorite Teacher?”

It’s a question that comes up every now and again in adulthood when getting to know someone new, or reminiscing with old friends.

Our teachers are powerful people in our lives, guiding us day-by-day and year after year through more than just the common core. They were there to mediate our fights with friends. They talked us through the inevitable moments when problems at home bled into the school day. The great ones (the ones we remember fondly still) were safe adults who let us know--in no uncertain terms--that they cared.

When people respond to that question--“who was your favorite teacher?”--the word that most often comes up is “care”. And when one stops to really consider, the quality of caring in a role as critical as that of the teacher becomes paramount. So what characterizes a teacher who cares?

In the role of an educator, caring will come through in more than an expression of empathy. It will show in their daily work with well-crafted, engaging lessons. It will show in their classroom management, which is often democratic in nature (at least as much as is developmentally appropriate) and driven by clear expectations. It will show even and perhaps especially in students who are experiencing difficulty at home or other psychological distresses, as the perception of their teachers’ care acts as a motivator to do well in spite of the personal challenges they face.

Consider the question: “Who was your favorite teacher?” You have one. We all do. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, a handful of inspired adults come to mind. You may remember a particular book, or a lesson that changed how you looked at something. You may smile because their infectious love of science or art set you on the path to a career you love today. You may smile, recalling a funny mannerism they possessed or a day in the classroom that lived in infamy. You may smile because they recognized that moment when you needed a safe adult to talk to about whatever chaos had taken root in your adolescent world.

In the past year, PaperSeed has had the privilege of working with STIR Education and naming nine inspiring Teacher-Changemakers "PaperSeed Champions". Each Champion has devised his or her own way to strengthen education, from Anita Bhardwaj's movement to enroll developmentally delayed students in school to Pankaj Kumar Chauhan's engaging lessons and hand-made learning tools. Though their innovations are different, it is evident that every champion cares deeply about their students.

As a generation of new teachers step into the classroom, it is our hope that they consider this crucial trait. It takes expertise to prepare a great lesson. It takes time and energy to turn a drab portable classroom into an exciting space for learning. But what does it take to show your students that you care? The PaperSeed team is exploring this as well, and it is our hope to start a larger conversation about what it takes to be an excellent teacher.  Almost certainly, it starts with caring about students.



Student motivation in middle school: The role of perceived pedagogical caring.

Wentzel, Kathryn R.

Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 89(3), Sep 1997, 411-419.