The Art of Great Teaching: 10% Content, 90% Personality

By |2018-09-06T09:00:42-07:00March 17th, 2014|

While I am a proponent of the Common Core Standards Initiative, we must remember that although the underlying Common Core philosophy is synonymous with good teaching, there is a difference between good teaching and great teaching.  We must not forget that great teachers can teach anything, because it is not the content that makes great teachers, it’s the personality.  Even though our educational world is enveloped in the new paradigm shift and the plethora of content, we still need to allow our personality to show through, because that’s what engages our students and that’s what makes great teachers.

Anyone Can Teach

For so long there has been an overarching perception that teaching is easy, anyone can do it, or belief in the inaccurate quote “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”.  This lingering perception is so confusing, because it’s not easy and not everyone can do it.   We pride everything in America on education.  We harp on the importance of education and the furthering of one’s education for sought after success.  But who is going to provide that education?  Teachers.  Who prepares our doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers?  Teachers.  Yet, teaching is often considered a fall back job, a job that anyone can do, or worst of all the idea that if you don’t succeed in the career you wanted you can always become a teacher.

The Making of a Great Teacher

While researching what makes a great teacher, I came across a couple different perspectives. offered seven underlying traits of a great teacher.  Great teachers have high expectations, clear objectives, are prepared and organized, engage students, form strong relationships, are masters of their subjects, and communicate often with parents.  I agree with all of these traits, however this seems more like a good cookie cutter response to an administrator’s interview question…but it is not necessarily reality.

Leblanc (1998), however, presented his top ten requirements for great teaching.  I found this list to be very inclusive and indicative of great teachers.  It’s a great read if you get the chance.  Leblanc (1998) explained that great teaching is grounded in passion and reason; training students to be consumers of knowledge; listening, questioning, and being responsive; flexibility; style and entertaining with substance; humor and caring; nurturing and developing, strength in leadership, teamwork, and fun.  He ends his list with “Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers couldn’t imagine doing anything else”.

If we look at either of these lists, the actual topic of content is only mentioned once.  This illustrates the idea that teaching is only 10% content and 90% personality.  Traits like passion, reason, organization, humor, care, and teamwork are all a matter of personality.  Even the most intellectual content expert may fail without a great teacher personality.

Great teaching is an art; an art that is 10% content and 90% personality.  As we move into the Common Core Initiative, and the adoption of new assessments, don’t forget the importance of your personality in the classroom.   Don’t let the new standards rob you of your great teacher personality, because it is your personality that makes you a Great Teacher!


Piquès & Pirouettès


Next Week: Common Core

Is it really that Common: the unedited conversation of Common Core, Part I
I feel that in this mad dash to Common Core, no one has stopped to talk to the teachers.  Everyone keeps throwing things at us, new language, new standards, new assessments, new tools, and new strategies. Although this is good,  sometimes you just need to let out your true feelings.  Join in on the conversation!






  1. Justin Lanier March 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    The opinions expressed in this article are compelling on a superficial level. However, I’d argue that the same opinions would sound pretty good if “teacher” were everywhere replaced by “doctor.” Doctors, too, need passion and reason; the ability to listen, question, and respond; flexibility; and so on. But being a great doctor is certainly not 10% medical knowledge and 90% personality. No one would seriously make this claim.

    So what gives? The fact is that these other qualities that correlate with great teaching are more closely tied to content knowledge than is apparent at first glance. Students can tell when passion comes from a deep love of a subject and when it’s just fluff. To be able to listen, question, and respond to students requires a fluency with content that far outstrips merely regurgitating the content in the textbook, while flexibility in the classroom and in planning can only come from the confidence that flows from deep content knowledge.

    Also, it’s easy to cook up percentages in the way you lay out a list. Great teaching comes from personality and content knowledge–hey, look! Now it’s 50% and 50%!

    On another note, saying that teaching is mostly personality undermines it as a profession. Everyone has a personality–there’s nothing to work at if you’re “in” or “out” of teaching based only on “who you are.” Teaching is a practice, an art and a science that one gets better at through experience, work, and reflection. While it’s true that intellectual content is not sufficient for great teaching–as you correctly point out–I will say that it is certainly necessary. My personality is approximately the same as it was nine years ago when I started teaching mathematics, but my teaching has improved by leaps and bounds.

    • Typhani Harris March 17, 2014 at 5:54 pm - Reply

      Hey Justin.
      Thanks for the comment; I am always looking for healthy discussion on education. I appreciate your views and invite your discourse.

      To start, if I may give you a little background on the reason I pursued this topic. Over my tenure I have encountered many who refer to teaching as an easy job, and recently many educators who are anxious about the new Common Core, so my goal, albeit superficially, was to address both. To the naysayer: no, teaching is not easy and not everyone can do it. To our Common Core anxious educators: yes if you have a great “teacher personality” you can teach anything, namely Common Core.

      A couple things you mentioned really resonated with me.

      Obviously, one must be fluent in their content, and maybe as an English teacher I should refrain from mathematical percentages; however it is the way that the content is delivered that makes it engaging, and that delivery is all in the personality. I have observed many teachers teaching the same “content” however, some
      succeed in engaging students and truly disseminating knowledge, and some don’t. Even a deep love for a subject, as you say, might not come across without a great “teacher personality”. The flexibility and confidence you mention, are also traits of the “teacher personality”, which I agree come with time and experience. I, in no means, wish to undermine our profession. As a 20-year veteran of education, I am constantly justifying our credibility, so that was not my plan. However, it was my plan to spark curiosity and feed the confidence of my colleagues. Would your math lessons be just as great with sheer content improvement? Or was it the experience of delivery and reflection, and the nurturing of your “teacher personality” that refined your math lessons, and fine-tuned your craft? We are constantly learning better ways to be flexible, better ways to listen, question, and respond…and none of that comes from a book or professional development on our content. Do I think that personality alone makes a great teacher, no. But with the right “teacher personality” a great teacher can teach anything. And sorry for the exaggerated percentages, as an English teacher I shall never argue with a mathematician! Thank you so much for the discussion!

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