Special Edition

The 2015 State Teachers of the Year

The Makings of an Effective Teacher

The Makings of an Effective Teacher

People often wonder what makes one teacher effective and another teacher not as effective. Here are some examples of an effective teacher:

People often wonder what makes one teacher effective and another teacher not as effective. Here are some examples of an effective teacher:

  • Passionate about the subject they teach
  • Compassionate toward their students
  • Listens to what the students are saying and/or asking
  • Flexible
  • Develops relationships with their students, parents, fellow teachers and administrators
  • Organized
  • Able to have a sense of humor
  • Creative
Why listen?

Of the characteristics listed above, the ability to listen is probably the most important. I teach math to at-risk high school students. My subject area is usually the one the students hate. They struggle with basic fundamental skills and keep asking, “Why are there letters mixed in with the numbers?” They also ask “When am I ever going to use this?” My job is to listen to why they do not like math and get them to tell me where the numbers and letters start to confuse them. By listening to them, I gain insight into what is causing the confusion and hardship. I had to learn to stop assuming I knew where the student was confused. When I answered my own assumptions, I only confused the student more. Now that I listen and ask questions, the confusion usually goes away in a short period of time, and the student starts progressing in their understanding of mathematical concepts.

Why do I teach?

Since I listen to my students, they believe that I respect them as a person and that I am there to help them learn mathematics. Many times they will ask me why I became a math teacher, and I tell them that after my children were born, I started tutoring the neighborhood children in mathematics. I soon discovered that these children were good at math—they could solve the problems once I explained the why and how in terms they could understand. After these children started finding success in mathematics, their confidence level increased, and they started to enjoy the subject. Thus, after tutoring for two years, I went back to school to get a master’s degree in education and a teaching credential in mathematics and social studies.

Why be passionate?

An effective teacher is one who is passionate about their subject matter. Students become fully engaged by their teacher’s passion towards what they teach. That enthusiasm and high energy sparks an interest in the subject by the students. Many students pick their college major due to a teacher that made the subject come alive and exciting for them to learn.

Why have compassion?

Teachers need to be compassionate towards their students. Students today are under many pressures due to both parents working, living in a single parent home, living with relatives or friends due to the absence of a parent due to death or incarceration, drug issues, poverty, legal issues, family issues, social media, peer pressure, cell phones and many other issues that impact their daily lives. I have to be sensitive to the mental, emotional and social well-being of my students. Each day as my students arrive at my classroom door, I have to assess each one quickly to see if they are in a frame of mind that will allow them to learn that day. In addition, I have to ask myself the following questions: Do they need someone to listen to them? Do they need someone to provide them with a safe learning environment? Do they need school supplies or help keeping their school materials in order? Do they need someone to teach to their learning style? Do they need someone who will let them stand in the back of the room, as their Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is so bad today that they cannot sit still? Do they need a friendly smile or someone to just say, “Hi”?

What is so important about relationships?

Not only do I have to build a relationship with my students, but I also have to build a relationship with their parent(s) or guardian. I do my best to call each of my students’ parents/guardians within the first two weeks of school. During these phone calls, I ask how things are going with their child’s classes and the school and for insight into what will work best to help their child succeed in my class. Once the parent/guardian realizes that I am not going to say anything negative about their child and the conversation is about their child’s strengths and learning style, they begin to open up and share valuable information that will enable me to help their child learn.

My students and their parents realize that I do respect them and value their opinion. Thus, when I do have to discipline a child and call home, the conversation is generally very positive. I have the parents help me come up with solutions that will help their child learn and behave in class. Many times a student will come up to me the day after I called their home to tell me what happened and what their plan will be to not get in trouble again.

The learning environment.

When students trust that I care about them and want them to succeed in my class, it is up to me to provide a great learning environment. I have to be flexible and creative to meet the individual needs of all of my students and, in addition, I have to set high behavioral and learning expectations for my students. I am known as the teacher who makes her students work from bell to bell. They know that if they try to do their best I will make sure that they learn the material and are prepared for the next level of mathematics. For some students, this means being available before school, during lunch and after school to help answer questions and clarify new concepts or misconceptions.

The new math mindset.

There is a mindset in the United States that must change. We cannot keep saying, “It is OK not to be able to do math. I had trouble too.” This devalues the necessity for our children to learn mathematics—a subject that is so integrated into our everyday lives. Our children must be problem solvers. They must learn to persevere. They must be able to analyze articles and statements. They must be able to argue their point of view. The future requires that learners have 21st century skills, and I can tell you that they are taught and learned in a mathematics classroom. 


Kim Zeydel is Idaho’s 2015 State Teacher of the Year and engages in a year of professional learning facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers. For information on a state's selection process, contact its State Teacher of the Year Program Coordinator.


Kim has been teaching for 26 years spending much of that time with at-risk students. She received the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is the past president of the Idaho Council of Teachers of Mathematics and is a T^3 Regional Instructor for Texas Instruments. Her goal is to enable all students to succeed in mathematics through good instructional knowledge and pedagogy.