Kid Corner: What Makes a Good Teacher?

I’m sure you’ve thought about what makes a good teacher, but have you ever asked a child what he or she thinks makes a good teacher? I love it when my readers share questions with me, and this one came from Rachel Schuette, who was looking for input for a teaching course she’s taking: What do you think makes a good teacher?

What makes a good teacher? Ask a Kid!

I posted the question to the TinkerLab Facebook page, and the responses that poured in were thoughtful, funny, and honest.

Here’s Rachel’s original question:

“I am looking for help…. Would any of you mind interviewing your school age child/neighbors child/ any student a question and reply with their response please?!
Ok, question is: “what do you think makes a good teacher?”( or give a prompt like”if I was a teacher I would…”)
Thank you so much for ANY input.”

As educators, parents, or, well, grown-ups, we have many theories about what a good teacher looks like. But how often do we think to ask the kids themselves? Sure, children may not have the long view on curriculum, but they do have strong opinions on what helps them enjoy learning.

One thread that was repeated throughout was that of being nice, kind, and caring, and not shouting or yelling. While you may be surprised to see so many children desire a strict teacher, keep in mind that strict teachers often build safe and equitable learning environments.

I went through the comments (at the time of posting there were 66 in all), and organized them by age to help you pour over them. If you’re a teacher, I imagine that you will see yourself in many of these thoughts. And if you’re a parent, you might just want to forward this to your favorite teacher!

And finally, if you are a parent, teacher, grandparent, or someone who hangs out with kids, go ahead and ask them Rachel’s question and share the response/s in a comment. We love comments and I love the idea of this resource building over time.

What makes a good teacher?

What Makes a Good Teacher?


All good teachers feed us!

She has to be really nice.

Like one that doesn’t make you sleep. You can just stay awake and watch a movie.

Cook. And give snacks after nap.

Be nice. Say good job and I love you. You know, do what you do, Mommy. (mommy is a teacher)

Age 5

Be kind and make sure everyone has a friend to play with.

A good teacher is very smart and nice to kids.

Doing bible studies.

Being helpful, and being nice by giving everyone a chance to try things.

Teach school kids.

Uses the computer and the smart board.

Doesn’t shout, And helps me finish my work that I find hard.

Age 6

Someone that doesn’t say “you have to be a teenager or an adult to be an artist or a scientist”

A good teacher likes to learn new things so they can teach new things.

Take care of the kids.

They let you play and go outside and stuff. You know, the fun stuff.

I have no idea. Not being mean or hittin’ people.

Someone who teaches you a lot and let’s you learn the things you want to learn. (homeschooler)

She doesn’t yell.

She notices you. She sees if you’re upset or worried and helps. She’s really good at noticing people.

They don’t scream and they help you learn.

Being nice to us and letting us have extra recesses.

That she’s nice, polite and kind. She takes care of us.

Age 7

They ask for feedback after we do assignments, balance the assignment so we don’t do one subject all day long, are good listeners, are helpful when you’re frustrated.

They are good with kids and they’ve been a teacher lots of years.

They are so nice. They teach us good stuff. They don’t get us in trouble all the time, but they do get people in trouble for the right reasons. Not like those old-fashioned teachers with a blackboard and that stick thing!

They are nice. I like that they are smart. If I were a teacher I would teach everyone. I would tell everyone about myself myself on the first day of school. And, I would give them two math pages a day.

Really nice, and doesn’t yell.

Personality, funny, serious, thoughtful, nice

Not being strict but being nice.

A good teacher helps people.

If I was a teacher, I’d do show and tell every day.

Someone who is very smart, and explains things understandably.

A teacher who helps me and encourages me.

Age 8

If she doesn’t raise her voice.

They’re caring.

Being kind.

Learning and having fun. Helps you learn.

Age 9

A good teacher is always kind and nice to their students.

A good teacher is someone who makes learning fun.


If I was a teacher….I would have free time for the kids. If I was a teacher I would have kids work together on projects and be able to show their slides on the projector screen.

Nice, not too strict, homework only 3x/week, helps you if you don’t understand.

If I was a teacher I would explain everything clearly.

Age 10

They lead group and individual projects, make sure that everybody learns at their own pace, make sure that we understand the assignment, they are helpful, make learning fun, if we work hard we should be able to play hard, are trust-worthy, pay attention to who you are as an individual, are empathetic and reasonable.

Someone that’s strict but fair and doesn’t punish the whole class when it is only one or two who are misbehaving.

They never yell and help you when you ask .

A teacher that doesn’t specifically assign homework.


Free time.

Strict, funny, energetic, understanding, forgiving.

A good teacher is someone who enjoys talking to you and teaching you new things or helping you when you are stuck on a math problem.

If I was a teacher I’d never give homework.. My brain needs a break you know.

Age 11

Kind of strict and kind of nice so you still take them seriously.

Age 12

They have to be like super patient, because you know, kids. They should like kids and should be kind of strict.

One who knows what they are teaching and is teaching it in a fun way.

Creative. Hands on activities. Ask often if kids have questions. And devotion…don’t be lazy.

Age 13

Learn to change with the times and teach with the changes and be fresh.

I don’t know. Nice. Smart, I think.

Age 14

A good teacher teaches the lesson but also makes the lesson fun.

Club TinkerLab

Ask TinkerLab a Question

If you have a question that you’d like answered, join us in Club TinkerLab, a closed Facebook group for parents, teachers, makers, caregivers, grandparents who are interested in making, inventing, educating, and engineering intersect. If you’re looking for process-based art projects, STEAM inspiration, lesson plans, sketchbook ideas, or general creative inspiration, this group should feel like home.

More Reader-generated Polls

What does art education mean to you?

Tips: How to clean up after a creative session.

Activities for toddlers while an older child makes art.

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TEACH Documentary: What Does it Take to be a Great Teacher Today?

Thanks to Participant Media for sponsoring this post and for the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of teachers in our children’s lives.

What does it take to be a great teacherWhat Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher?

Can you think of a teacher that inspired you to find a discipline that spoke to your soul, work harder, read more carefully, play well with others, or become your most authentic self?

I talked about one of these teachers the other day, and three lessons that I learned from him on how to be a GREAT teacher. With the charge to inspire children to be their best selves, teachers have one of the most rewarding professions in the world. But of course, teaching isn’t an easy profession.

Although most teachers are passionate about what they do and love their work, they’re also notoriously underpaid for the amount of work they do in relation to the importance of their job: caring for our children’s futures.

How Much are Teachers Worth to You?

There’s a huge discrepancy between how much teachers are worth versus how much they’re actually paid.

I like to think of it this way: If I were to pay a babysitter to watch my child during school hours, it would cost me about $80/day ($20/hour for four hours of Kindergarten…I live in Silicon Valley and this really is the going rate!). Now multiply that by 175 days of school (California state law) and you have $14,000. Multiply that by 22 children and you have $308,000/year. Once a child leaves Kindergarten and is in school for six hours/day, the amount rises dramatically to $462,000!!

Do teachers make anywhere near this salary? Not a chance.

What? This is a huge exaggeration.

Okay, okay, I realize that many factors aren’t taken into account here such as the cost of school resources, school overhead, administrative salaries, technology, and extracurricular activities.

The point, however, isn’t to analyze the cost of running a school but to show how much a teacher is worth to us parents, how valuable our teachers are to our communities, and how little teachers get paid in relation to what they’re worth. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the highest paid teacher, with a doctorate degree,who also happens to put in the most hours (far more than the 175 days/year) earns around $100,000/year.

The point is this: Teachers are worth a lot to us. They help our children grow into well-rounded individuals, they show our children how to mitigate social situations in our absence, and they have years of training and expertise that qualify them to help our children reach their fullest intellectual potential.

Teach Documentary

What Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher Today?

Participant Media, makers of award-winning films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Cove, and Fast Food Nation, bring us a new film THIS WEEK called TEACH.

TEACH, Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim’s third documentary film about education in America, airing on CBS on Sept 6 and Pivot on Sept 14, asks the question: What Does It Take to Be A Great Teacher Today?

It is important and timely to look at the profession of teaching in an honest and practical way because it is estimated that within the next ten years, 65% of America’s teachers will retire.

What YOU can do:

Watch the trailer, put TEACH on your calendar (September 6th at 8:00 pm ET/PT), and forward this post to anyone you think will benefit from watching this film.

Watch the trailer for TEACH here:

Three Little-known Secrets to Great Teaching

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  ~ Henry Brooks Adams

Have you ever had one of those teachers whose inspiration never left you? Someone who lit a fire in you that never died. A teacher whose influence and ideas are carried with you to this day?

flute playing with rafe esquith

I feel lucky to say that I’ve had one of these teachers.

Rafe Esquith taught fifth grade at my school and I was lucky enough to participate in his after school Shakespeare program. But teachers come in all forms just as children do. Based solely on my elementary school memories of Mr. Esquith, I bring you Three Little Known Secrets to Great Teaching. 

3 little known secrets to great teaching

#1 Secret to Great Teaching: Teach What You’re Passionate About

Rafe was (and still is) passionate about Shakespeare. He spent endless hours of his personal time teaching eleven-year-olds how to unpack meaning from plays like Richard III, MacBeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Each year we put on a full unabridged Shakespeare play complete with costumes, rock ‘n’ roll musical accompaniment, and sets. There were so many children in the program that he double cast every role and we held two separate performances so that each child could perform. Before we ever stepped foot on the stage, we read the play numerous times, laughed over Shakespeare’s play on words, and learned about some of the words that he invented (did you know that the word Moonbeam was first introduced in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?).

What made Mr.Esquith shine so brightly in my eyes is that he walked the talk. He didn’t say, “Shakespeare is important. Read these ten pages and we’ll have a quiz on it tomorrow.” Rather he loved everything about Shakespeare and his enthusiasm for the topic was contagious. There was not one child in Rafe’s Shakespeare program who didn’t aspire to love Shakespeare as much as Rafe did.

Many years later when I was studying at UCLA, I enrolled in a Shakespeare class. Half of the plays we read in that course were plays we had covered in Rafe’s afterschool program, and I remember breezing through the text like you might nostalgically look at Good Night Moon. The meaning and the stories stuck with me after all those years.

Lesson: Teach what you’re passionate about and your enthusiasm will spread.

rafe esquith shakespeare

Secret #2: Look for the Gift in Every Child

Not every child is the same, and each child carries unique strengths.

After spending time getting to know all of us, Rafe assigned roles. I was a pretty good flute player, so he found a place for me as a musician. My friend Rachel carried herself eloquently and was such a strong actor — she took a lead role. Some of the children were quieter than others (I was one of these children), and he cast them in ensemble roles. Rafe genuinely cared about his students and saw that everyone participated in a way that made sense for them.

Lesson: Pay attention to the children who are not the typical shining stars and find something wonderful in them. Figure out what makes them tick, and celebrate this. Children are capable of so much if you just give them the chance.

Learning about Shakespeare with Rafe Esquith

Secret #3: Be Unconventional

I’ve been watching Rafe’s career from the sidelines, and I know that he follows district guidelines in order to deliver the curriculum that all Los Angeles public school teachers are supposed to provide for their children. What sets Rafe apart from the teacher who solely follows the rules is that he’s not afraid to forge his own path. He arrives at school early, he stays late, he makes a point to accompany each unabridged Shakespearean play with rock ‘n’ roll music, and he raises money to take his students all over the world to apply their classroom learning to the real world.

Lesson: Look at your curriculum and find fun and non-traditional ways to bring it to life. 

More about Rafe Esquith

When I first met Mr. Esquith, he was just at the beginning of his career and I simply knew him as an amazing teacher.  He’s since gone on to write numerous books and receive teaching honors such as the Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, Oprah Winfrey’s $100,000 “Use Your Life Award”, Parents Magazine’s “As You Grow Award”, National Medal of Arts, and Esquith was made an honoraryMember of the Order of the British Empire. You can read more about his program The Hobart Shakespeareans here. 

rafe esquith books

Books by Rafe Esquith

Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!”, Work Hard. Be Nice. (New York Times Bestseller), Teach Like Your Hair’s On FireThere Are No Shortcuts

A Question For You…

You’ve heard my three secrets to great teaching. Please share more secrets to great teaching!

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