What makes a great teacher? Or a bad one?

What makes a great teacher? Or a bad one?

by Jill Tucker

While school districts are increasingly evaluating teachers on up to 60 different skills, most people know a good/bad teacher when they see them – or when they had them in class. –

Science teacher Glenn Wolkenfeld prepares for the summer break in his Berkeley High School classroom in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, June 13, 2014. Wolkenfeld has taught at Berkeley High for 15 years and has been named as one of the school district’s top teachers of the year.

Glenn Wolkenfeld

Biology teacher, Berkeley High School teacher of the year

Best teacher: high school algebra/geometry

She was extraordinarily organized and systematic. She was a great communicator and really easy to follow. She was really good on her feet at answering questions and explaining things not in the same way that she explained it the first time. I think the best teachers use their little windows to open up some big truth in the universe.

Worst teacher: 12th-grade history

She showed up. She was there in the room, but she had us do independent reading from the test preparation book for the AP European History exam. This was an old department chair resting on her laurels, counting her days.


Christopher Rosenberg

Principal, John Muir Elementary, San Francisco


Best teacher: The best teachers knew about their subject, cared a lot of about it and did a great job of motivating me, us, to get engaged with the content, just inspired us basically.

Worst teacher: elementary school

I did have a teacher in elementary school who really wasn’t able to control the class, and we were not an easy class, I would point out. I’m not sure I knew she was a bad teacher. I bet my parents knew it. I knew she had no control over the class. I think I kind of liked that as a kid.


Sophie Schafer

Outgoing freshman, Oakland Technical High School


Best teacher: ninth-grade history

Walking into her class made my day better. My friend described it as “walking into her class is like walking into a warm hug” – and I think that sums it up. I’ve always said that an effective teacher inflicts fear, but a great teacher has respect. She was definitely respected.

Worst teacher: seventh-grade math

He would let us watch “Glee” all of class. He was mean and rude. One time he told a girl that he’d bet all his money that she’d get pregnant by the end of high school. He also came hungover to class one time, wearing sunglasses, and spent the entire class at the back of the room reading the newspaper and telling us to shut up. He would also write equations and their answers on the board and tell us to copy them, and the next day, unsurprisingly, those exact questions were on the test – *wow*!

Sarah Glasband

Oakland’s MetWest High School, teacher of the year


Best teacher: 10th-grade English

She was just totally incredible and made us feel we could be and do and create anything with our lives. She would often say, “When you go to college or when you travel to x place, this is what you will look for.” She opened my ideas about myself. She was really instrumental to seeing the possibility in our lives; she saw 15-year-olds as chock full of possibility.

Worst teacher: middle-school science

He would have fits of rage in the classroom where he would get angry at people. It felt abusive. He would go to a student’s desk and take their things and slam them on the ground. I was like 11 years old or 12 and that was scary to me.


Kelly Clark

Fifth-grade teacher, San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Elementary, S.F. teacher of the year

Best teacher: sixth grade

She was really dialed into who we were as people. She understood the characteristics of sixth-graders, what they do and don’t do. She understood content in reference to what she was teaching.

Worst teacher: third grade

She just didn’t like us. I don’t think she liked any of us. She was removed from us. We were 8 years old. Eight-year-olds are quite the chatty little group and (they like to be) helpful. It takes a certain personality to enjoy that tenacity.


Marshall Tuck

Candidate for state superintendent of public instruction


Best teacher: 11th-grade English

He was phenomenal. He was extremely strict, had very high expectations of our class. The crux of it was, we were juniors, he treated us like adults. It was so clear how much time, energy and passion … he loved literature. He was very expressive and just helped it come to life. And he believed in every kid in that class.

Worst teacher: 12th-grade AP English

The teacher we had was just terrible. She lectured the entire time. The homework she gave was minimal. There was an absolute uproar. They moved that teacher out. She wasn’t cussing at us, hitting us. She was just a really bad teacher, didn’t care and had been there a really long time. They put her in a low-performing class.


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