What Makes a Good Teacher?

“So, a belief you hold is that you cannot be both a good teacher and a good mom.”

If my life were a television show or a movie, there would be a dramatic sound effect like glass breaking or a gong going off right about now.

Once I heard that spoken at the Cognitive Coaching training I attended over the summer, it got me thinking about my beliefs about what makes a good teacher and a good mom. I was finally able to put into words my fears about returning to work after having my first child this year. Will I be able to be the teacher my students need me to be, and the mom my son needs me to be? Can I meet the needs of all my students, while also meeting the needs of my little man? Would I have to choose between my students and my son? In other words, what makes a good teacher?

I believe a good teacher is one who designs engaging lessons. Before my son was born, an engaging lesson looked like materials prepared and organized a minimum of a day in advance, anchor charts pre-made and ready to be displayed right from the get-go. I knew exactly where each lesson was going to go, and which engagement activities were best to do at any given point in the lesson. The majority of my students were engaged in their learning most of the time. Now that I am a working mom, my materials are not prepared and color-coded a day in advance. Sometimes I will put the finishing touches on a PearDeck just in the nick of time! I still find that the majority of my students are engaged most of the time.

I believe a good teacher is one who reaches the students who appear as if they do not want to be reached. I used to reach those students who act as if they do not want to be reached by playing basketball or one of those clapping games with them at recess. It helped me see them in a different light, and vice versa. I do not always have the time to do that now, so I have had to find new ways to reach students like this. Sometimes something as simple as extra encouraging words and making an extra effort to smile at them will do the trick.

I believe a good teacher is one who understands that students’ emotional needs must be met before their academic needs. I used to think that tough love along with words of affirmation was the best way to show all my students that I care about them enough to make sure they meet my high expectations. I still feel this way to some extent, but no longer feel like this is best for every student all the time.

I believe a good teacher communicates clearly with students (e.g. Academic feedback) and parents (e.g. Newsletters, emails, etc.). I used to have time to write lengthy paragraphs to each student about how they could improve their writing on every writing assignment. I would write detailed monthly newsletters to the parents about every single thing going on in class or at school that month. I no longer have time to do these things, so I give my students as much feedback in real-time as possible. Parents get updates through Class Dojo as things come up instead of hearing about everything a month in advance.

I believe a good teacher learns about who their students are as people. I used to watch who played with what and with whom at recess and think that was enough to get a better picture of who my students are as individuals. I still do this, but I listen a lot more intently than I used to. I know who is the oldest sibling in the family, and what responsibilities they have at home, as well as who the babies of the family are. I know which students are about to have another younger sibling join the family this year, and which students who have a family member who is incarcerated.

As I reflected on what qualities I believed a good teacher possessed, I was surprised to find these traits are still present in my teaching since giving birth to my son. I never thought that I would be able to do it, to give the same amount of heart and soul into my teaching practice, once I became a mother. I realized that I thought that the things I used to do were the only way I could be a good teacher, but now I see it differently.

Oh, and what makes a good mom? I am still pretty new to this whole mom thing, so I am still figuring that out, and loving every second of it along the way.


Photo by Lina Kivaka from Pexels


Caitlin Gawlowski

I was born to be a teacher, although I did not realize that teaching was my calling until I began college. I have always loved to write and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before I began my freshman year of college, I changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and have never looked back. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during my student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District.
I spent 7 years in the Washington Elementary School District teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and I hold a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2019-2020 school year marks the beginning of my 8th year teaching, where I will be teaching 3rd grade English Language Learners, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification.
If I am lucky enough to have free time, you can find me planning my wedding, spending time with my infant son and fiancé, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

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