Top five qualities of effective teachers, according to students

Multi racial group of high school students sitting in a circle talking and holding laptops and tablets

Students are most affected by the quality of their teachers. Not only do they interact with teachers every day in the classroom, but the quality of that interaction matters for our students’ future. In fact, Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek has noted that the difference between a good and a bad teacher can be a full level of student achievement in a single school year. But students are rarely asked what they think makes a great teacher.

So, we asked. Pearson surveyed students ages 15-19 across the U.S. about what they thought made an effective teacher. Their responses highlight just how important a student-focused approach is to the learning experience. The top five qualities of a great teacher, according to students, are:


1. The ability to develop relationships with their students

The most frequent response is that a great teacher develops relationships with students. The research literature agrees with them: Teachers need to be able to build trusting relationships with students in order to create a safe, positive, and productive learning environment. For example, a student in Boston told us that great teachers are “Willing to listen to students when there is a problem.”

2. Patient, caring, and kind personality

Personality characteristics related to being a compassionate person and having a sensitivity to student differences, particularly with learners, was the second most frequently reported quality. Again, there is research to support that teacher dispositions are strongly related to student learning and development.

3. Knowledge of learners

This is a broad category that incorporates knowledge of the cognitive, social and emotional development of learners. It includes an understanding of how students learn at a given developmental level; how learning in a specific subject area typically progresses like learning progressions or trajectories; awareness that learners have individual needs and abilities; and an understanding that instruction should be tailored to meet each learner’s needs. One student eloquently described it as: “The teacher understands the pace and capacity of the student.”

4. Dedication to teaching

Dedication refers to a love of teaching or passion for the work, which includes commitment to students’ success. Responses often referred to loving the subject matter or simply being dedicated to the work. To a student, this means a teacher should be “always willing to help and give time.”

5. Engaging students in learning

Students also said that teachers should be able to engage and motivate students to learn. Researchers talk about three types of engagement that are required for students to learn: cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. Survey respondents mostly focused on making content interesting and the ability to motivate students to learn. A student in Pennsylvania said great teachers are, “motivating students to succeed in and out of school.”


If you think about the best teachers you know, it makes sense. Those exceptional teachers develop strong bonds with students, and use them to help students learn.

Pearson also surveyed teachers, parents, principals and policymakers in the U.S., as well as in 22 other countries, about what they thought made a great teacher. The U.S. results align with the global findings. Globally, survey participants did not focus first on how much a teacher knew, or even what kinds of teaching methods he or she used, but instead on the teacher’s dispositions and ability to build relationships.


Explore the findings from Pearson’s Global Survey of Educator Effectiveness.


About the Author
Ashley Peterson-DeLuca

Ashley Peterson-DeLuca

Ashley has a passion for education research. She’s been with Pearson for seven years, focuses on outreach about education research, assessments, and great teaching. She holds a Masters in Journalism from the University of Iowa.