There are a number of characteristics that the great ones have in common.
1. Recognize individuality. Each student’s learning style is so different. The great teachers come up with multiple ways of presenting information so that each person can understand in their fashion. Think of the spokes on a wheel. Each spoke represents an opportunity to get to the center, to get the message across.
2. Passionate about their art. Great teachers don’t just like their art. They love it. They live it and their passion about it, is simply palpable.
3. Outstanding listening skills. Each student undertakes training for unique reasons. A great teacher listens to what they need or want, and does their best to provide these. They observe the non-verbal cues and are constantly adjusting.
4. Sense of humor. This is a unique one. Humor is the antidote to stress, tension and other emotions associated with learning a new skill. A great teacher takes the edge off these situations via humor and a lighthearted atmosphere.
5. They follow the John Wooden rule. Coach John Wooden was the greatest coach in any major sport in history. A study was done on his teaching method and concluded that 50% of the time, Coach Wooden corrected his players. The other 50%, he complimented them.
In my own observations from many years of baseball, I noticed that very, very, very few respond to harsh criticism. Most crumble and shut down yet some persist on this approach. Conversely, a person typically lights up like a Christmas tree when complimented after doing something in a correct, creative fashion. Implied in here is the notion of respect. Coach Wooden was famous for his respectful dealing with his players and they with him.
In 1984, I went to a a dojo and while waiting for the doors to open, bumped into one of the students there. I knew nothing about martial arts so I asked him a series of questions. At the top of the list was “Which art is the best?” His response was still the best piece of advice I ever received. “It is not the art. It is the teacher that makes the difference.”
When you find someone that you connect with, you will undoubtedly experience the 5 characteristics above.