BTR-TESOL Unit 3A - Developing a Successful Teaching Personality
by Iva Crookston




objective of this unit

the least you should know

know your subject well and constantly educate yourself

know your students well

be respectful

be fair

be prompt in providing effective feedback

be prepared and punctual

make lessons engaging and on target

be enthusiastic about the subject

provide opportunities for students to seek additional help

listen to your students and be open to critiquing

comprehensive questions

video examples

reflection and responses

where to go to learn more

connections to other units in this program

online and other electronic resources

print and paper based resources

additional references



This unit will introduce you to ten categories of personality traits that are important to successful teaching. Identify one of the ten categories you want to start working on in order to develop a successful teaching personality. After improving one of them, select another one and continue going down the list.

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Scenario: Which Teacher Would You Rather Have?

As you go through the scenario, think of:

  • Your own experiences with teachers’ strong and/or weak characteristics.
  • The personality traits that make a teacher fall into one of these categories.

Iva: “I remember my math teacher in high school. She was always very serious and never smiled. We could never approach her to ask questions because we felt that she would think less of us. She had her two or three favorite students, and when someone gave a wrong answer, she made a comment in her notebook, which made me feel embarrassed. It was altogether a frightening experience for me. After high school, I threw away all of my notes from that class and was determined to choose a major that did not require a single math class. I was lacking the self–confidence in math, and I simply hated it. Later I found out that my goal was very hard to reach. If I wanted to study at the university, I had to take at least one math class to fulfill the general university requirements.”

“I went to the second best university in the country and was scared as the time came to take my only math class. It was a very hard class filled with concepts I had never heard of. Our teacher was an older guy with a very relaxed personality who crushed all of my prejudices about math teachers. He promised us that if we worked hard, did not give up, and asked for help, we would never fail his class. It gave me hope. His classes were always well–prepared. The time in class went fast and soon the class was over. He could even joke about boring numbers. Finally, math started making sense, and I ended up with a good grade and decided to switch from humanities to a business major."

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Objectives of this unit

At the end of this unit you will be able to explain:

  • What the traits of a successful teaching personality are.
  • Why they are important.
  • How they fit in the whole picture of an ideal complex teaching personality.

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The least you should know*
Characteristics of a successful teaching personality

Most teachers want to succeed – teach the material effectively so it leads to a student’s long-term improvement and a good relationship with students. In fact, the normal hierarchy of novice teacher’s needs is first to have enough materials for the classroom, second, to receive a positive response from the students and third to sense that the class fulfills students’ needs. That is why the questions “How can I be a successful teacher?” and “What characteristics do I need to have?” are the first questions every teacher tries to answer.

Much research has been done not only among students but also among teachers themselves. Thousand of different answers have been given, grouped and ranked according to importance. For our purposes, I have chosen ten categories that include > characteristics that have taken the lead from among these answers. They are fairly simple, and in spite of that, they seem to contribute to the effective and enjoyable teaching for students and even more so for teachers:
  1. Know your subject well and constantly educate yourself.
  2. Know your students well.
  3. Be respectful.
  4. Be fair.
  5. Be prompt in providing effective feedback.
  6. Be prepared and punctual.
  7. Make lessons engaging and on target.
  8. Be enthusiastic about the subject.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to seek additional help.
  10. Listen to your students and be open to constructive criticism.

* The order does not imply order of importance

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1. Know Your Subject Well and Constantly Educate Yourself

Students possess a special ability to sense your confidence and proficiency in the subject. In other words, a successful teaching personality starts with knowing the subject well and with the desire to learn more as your field of specialty changes and evolves. By doing so, the growing competency provides you with more self–confidence in the classroom, and you will be up-to-date with modern research and technology.

New books, computer programs, and teaching methods can help you to better address students' needs and make lessons more interesting, effective and fun. Publishers’ websites or professional TESOL journals provide you with an overview of what publications are on the market.


2. Know Your Students Well

By knowing students’ backgrounds, needs, and goals, you will be able to better meet their needs and create a good curriculum. As you might experience, a barrier exists between a teacher and student at the beginning of a semester. The fastest way to break this barrier and start building a trustworthy relationship is to get to know each other. Your interest in them might not only increase their motivation but also might become a driving source and reason behind their success. Several different ways to get to know your students include:
  • Create a game where students ask you or each other questions.
  • Bring pictures of your family or city and ask them to do the same.
  • Ask students to work in pairs and introduce each other to the class.
Showing students that you care about their success, and you are interested in them should be obvious from your approach in and outside the class. Some ways you can use include asking questions to individual students to make sure they understand the subject, talking to them following the class or exam about their experience and mistakes, and asking them for feedback.


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3. Be Respectful

To be respectful to your students and create a positive environment where they feel welcomed will be easier if you take the time to get to know your students as we discussed previously. You will learn quickly that students are very sensitive to how you approach them: more specifically how you address them, answer their questions, and react to their mistakes.

It is easier to build a relationship with teachers who show respect towards students in their voice, nonverbal communication, and feedback. Teachers should also respect comments even though they might not always be correct. Moreover, the important rule of every lesson, activity, and relationship building is patience. Such an attitude will encourage students to keep trying and to participate. The class will become more of a learning experience rather than time for the brightest students to demonstrate their knowledge.


4. Be Fair

ESL teacher leading discussionDo not expect that all of your students will be on the same proficiency level, respond the same to your teaching, and perform well on the tests. There will always be students who do better than others and students whose proficiency and involvement will be less enthusiastic. A teacher has to be fair to all of them- provide equal chances to receive help and participate in class, and answer with respect.

Being fair becomes especially important in terms of grading. Here are some tips to help you with fair grading:

  • Ask students to use a number or nickname instead of their name, so the grading system is anonymous.
  • If the test has multiple parts, consider grading the first part first for all students, the next part next for all students etc. After you grade each part, go back and make some adjustments if needed.
  • Keep your grading fair by using a grading rubric. A well–done detailed rubric that students are familiar with will simplify and speed up the grading process at the end and show the individual differences more clearly.

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5. Be Prompt in Providing Effective Feedback

The feedback that a teacher provides during and after the class, or even following the test is very important. Make sure the feedback comes promptly, so students can benefit from it. Just marking the mistake usually does not help students to understand what went wrong. They will most likely need a detailed explanation with an example to really understand the problem.

Feedback needs to be seen as a part of a learning process rather than an additional activity that comes in play only if time permits. This requires good time management skills and planning that will allow you to provide adequate feedback as soon as possible.

A follow up interview, office–hours appointment (only possible in certain settings), detailed comments, question/answer block at the beginning of the class, and group work where students can help each other out and make comments will assist you in providing prompt quality feedback.


6. Be Prepared and Punctual

Let’s look at our scenario or maybe your personal example one more time. How do classes that start late from unorganized teachers affect students’ attitude and determination in terms of performance? In fact, the way a teacher acts has a big impact on how seriously students take the class and how involved they become. If a teacher masters these two principles, students come to understand that a teacher does not only invest a lot into teaching but also has high expectations. These two characteristics "to be punctual and prepared" go hand in hand.

You might be well prepared, but if you are not on time, you have to compromise between the time left and your students' needs. A good strategy to master these two things is to plan and prepare your lessons in advance. Lessons prepared in advance can be more easily adjusted according to the students’ immediate needs and classroom situations. Having the time you planned will help you to pay attention to individual questions, go more into detail, and adjust lessons according to the discussion.


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7. Make Lessons Engaging and On Target

Let’s look at some ways in which lessons can be made more engaging, on target, and fun. For example, how many ways are there to teach students about the American Constitution? One way is that you can ask them to read a chapter from a textbook and quiz them on it later after you gave the same lecture from the book. The other way would be to ask students to look up information before class as homework. At the beginning of class you can show pictures of the main characters, and in groups students can match the names with pictures and roles they played in the constitution. The winning team can get some extra points or candy. Movies or short clips are good ways to get the students’ attention and help them remember facts. Students can also create a timeline as part of their notes while you give the lecture.

Interactive lessons actively engage students in a learning process where they have to use multiple skills such as writing, art, or speaking. By making connections to the real world by using authentic materials, students will be more alert, motivated, and will most likely go beyond the textbook to learn more.


8. Be Enthusiastic About the Subject

As we have already mentioned, students are very receptive to the teacher’s behavior. In fact, it is you-the teacher who sets the tone of the class and functions as an example. The teacher’s attitude, enthusiasm, and sense of humor will motivate and engage students in a subject. Enthusiasm and a good attitude bring life into textbooks and other material that might not be otherwise well received. Even the driest subject can be enjoyed if taught with enthusiasm and by using engaging An ESL classroomactivities as illustrated in the previous point. Don’t be afraid to be creative and use new activities if appropriate. Using real-life examples and materials will help you in this task.

Research shows that students appreciate a good sense of humor used appropriately as well as a happy relaxed teacher who brings positive feelings into their classroom. Knowing what appropriate behavior is in different cultures will help you to build a better relationship with your students.


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9. Provide Opportunities for Students to Seek Additional Help

Even the best student in your class will most likely need your help at some point. It is necessary to provide opportunities such as one on one discussion, additional exercises and study materials, or review sessions so you can reach out to your students and they can reach out to you. Providing additional help is a very important part of the students' learning experience, and they will learn quickly that even though it might be a new tool for them, they can benefit greatly from it. Feeling that it is all right to ask for help will contribute to the students' self–confidence and motivation as they see that they are able to do well.

On the other hand, students from some cultures (such as many in Asia) might be reluctant to talk to a teacher. Being aware of what the standard of a particular country is will help you to reach your goals by finding appropriate solutions.


10. Listen to Your Students and Be Open to Critiquing

The last part of the successful teaching personality we would like to point out is to listen to your students as they try to communicate their opinions, suggestions, and fears. Each program, lesson, and activity should have a goal in mind based on your students’ needs. Let assessments such as tests or questions about the course be a regular part of the course. This will help you to see how well students achieve the goals through your teaching. After receiving their feedback, make sure to go back, and if needed, adjust the course so the goals are met. It is also appropriate to share the feedback with all the students and introduce the changes.

Critiquing is another very sensitive subject that varies from culture to culture. Often students are not entitled to interfere with the structure or the content of the course but need to follow the teacher’s instruction completely. You need to make sure that students understand the purpose of communicating their opinions and making suggestions.



In this unit we have mentioned ten important characteristics that according to students, teachers and administrators describe a successful teaching personality. Moreover, being a good teacher is like a puzzle. As you keep these principles in mind while you prepare and teach your classes, you will see how they all work together, how missing pieces makes teaching and outcomes weak, and how every piece of this puzzle contributes to good teaching experiences.

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Comprehension (and reflection) questions

  1. Name five different activities that you can do at the beginning of your class to get to know your students better.
  2. What is the connection that was mentioned in this unit between being prepared and being punctual? When should you start preparing and gathering materials?
  3. What are some ways to show respect to your students?
  4. Describe three ways you can provide help to your students.

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Video example

Now, you will have a chance to watch a short video that demonstrates some of the points our scenario mentioned. Earlier, this unit summarized the most important traits of a successful teacher as perceived by students and teachers. These traits should be on the mind of every educator as they strive to become a better teacher.

Click Here  

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Reflection and Responses

  1. What traits of good and bad teaching did you notice in the scenario and video?
  2. Which of those traits do you possess?
  3. How might these traits affect your students as well as your teaching?

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Where to go to learn more

Many other units in the BTR-TESOL program relate to this unit. Please see the other units for more information.

Online and other electronic resources

new teacher resource center homepageThis website provides information for new teachers to help them to become successful teachers by focusing on certain qualities. It offers more points in addition to the 10 basic ones mentioned in the unit.

human metrics homepageThis website offers a free personality test based on the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory that will help you determine your personality type and indicate what your strengths are and what the areas you might need to work on are.

characteristics of novice teachers homepageCharacteristics of the Novice Teachers. This document was created at the West Virginia University and includes 10 characteristics that novice teachers should posses. Accessible online at: ssteel/educ312/gen_ info/characteristics.pdf

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Print and paper-based resources

Here are some other published resources you might want to look at. Even though some of them are based on research involving college students and their professors, they provide interesting insights, strategies, anregardless of where he/she teaches.

Successful Beginnings cover Angela Provitera McGlynn. Successful Beginnings for College Teaching. Publisher: Atwood Publisher. 2001. ISBN-13 9781891859380. $ 21,95. This book “shows you the many tools and strategies you can employ to get your classes off to a positive fruitful start – right from the very first day”.

Joy of Teaching coverPeter G. Filene. The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors. University of North Carolina Press. 2005. ISBN-13: 9780807856031. $14,88. “Rather than prescribe any single model for success, Filene lays out the advantages and disadvantages of various pedagogical strategies, inviting new teachers to make choices based on their own personalities, values, and goals…”

Teaching by Principles coverBrown, D. Teaching by Principles. An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. Chapter 25: Lifelong Learning: Teacher Development. New York: Pearson Longman. 2007. ISBN-13: 9780130282835. $ 40.00. This chapter explains the importance of classroom observation, collaboration between teachers, research in order to become a better teacher as well as what “good” language teacher should be like.

practice of english language teaching coverHarmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Chapter 6: Describing Teachers. New York: Pearson Longman. 2007. ISBN: 9781405853118 . $ 39.89. This chapter provides a good introduction into what teaching is and what teacher’s roles are.

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