The traits of a truly great preschool teacher

3 years ago I taught my last preschool class and there are many days that I truly miss being back in the classroom guiding little hands to cut, helping little people build puzzles and teaching little minds to develop and think.

But being Hamish’s first teacher has allowed me the opportunity to use my love of teaching and my skills to help him develop to his full potential before handing him over to, what I hope, will be amazing and dedicated teachers in his future educational years.

So, why this post?

There are many types of teachers

In my own experience working with other teachers as my peers, sending my older children to school after homeschooling and as well as having put Hamish into school for brief periods, I can honestly tell you there are many types of teachers.

And, in my experience,you can divide this wonderful diverse personality of teachers into two categories:

Fantastic teachers and those who just teach

Teachers who just teach

Let’s start with an all too common sight in preschool, what I term a “bad teacher”.

These are teachers who come to school to get the job done and earn their salary. They are often unprepared,put in little effort, can’t wait for nap time and give very little of themselves to their class.

I remember starting work at the one school to find a teaching assistant kick a students chair and another teacher leave a child outside in the cold rain, undercover but still, whilst the child was meant to be in time out.

I’ve met teachers who do the minimum needed to teach, don’t follow up on a child’s learning skills, moan about their pupils continually and take no time to get to know their class.

The worst for me however, are the amount of preschool teachers who do not interact with their pupils on the playground, have forgotten how to play or forget that a teacher needs to be constantly watching their class to assist, diffuse situations and be there for a child who needs them before the child needs to ask.

If you’ve read this and it seems like I’m expecting the impossible….not at all!

A fantastic teacher

It’s not hard to be a good teacher and I’ve had the privilegeto work with many and know an entire village full of amazing and dedicated teachers.

Yes, I said it. Even in a class of 30 or 40 kids a good teacher can still exist.

So, what in my opinion makes a good teacher ?


A good teacher is attentive- all the time.

She is constantly watching her class. Her eyes are never off them. On the playground and in the classroom she is constantly looking out, anticipating what can happen to be one step ahead.

Children this age can be agressive, boisterous, prone to not sharing or tantrums and your teacher needs to be watching to diffuse any situations before they arise.

I remember being outside and swinging my class on the swing or playing a game. When I was pregnant this became a bit harder but my eyes never left them. Even now, old habits die hard and in a group of children I’m still rounding them up and watching closely.


Your good teacher is aware of the trouble makers and has a game plan keep them engaged enough to be busy and not exhibiting negative behaviour.

My first encounter with a child who exhibited negative behaviour left me with the knowledge of just how quickly a child like this can consume a teachers time and how easy it is to ignore quieter or better behaved children. Because of this I had to implement a good plan to remove the child from the situation and introduce a method of consequences that did not take me most of my morning to see out, as I had a class of children ready and eager to learn and managing one child was not what 29 other parents paid me for.

Often I would rely on my classroom assistant to remove the child and give the time out or consequence, depending on the school discipline policy.

This way I was still where I was needed and could then use the playtime to sit with the child who exhibited disruptive or in appropriate behaviour and talk to them, encourage them to do better and remind them of classroom rules.

One on one

She knows her quiet pupils need her as much as the busier, more demanding pupils and because of this spreads her day so that she has checked in with every child in her class at least once throughout the day. This could be a 5 minute cuddle, softly building alongside a child or early morning or late afternoon drawing time while the day is more quiet.

Whilst preschoolers often act out to try express themselves, I’m always reminded of my 13 year old son in tears on hearing that his friend of 13 had hung herself after months of being bullied at school and of no one noticing. As teachers, no matter the age…. we owe our students better than to not notice.


Having said this, your teacher knows her students as well as she does her own children. After all she becomes their mother figure at school. She knows each personality, each child’s temperament and usually their likes , dislikes and what their favourite dinosaur is. A child who is excited to run into a classroom knows they can share their “news” with their teacher and can trust her.

I’ve always maintained that a good teacher is a fantastic mother.

One of the ways I got to know my pupils was to do circle times where we shared our favourite colours, food,ect. We did news Monday where they shared what they did in a weekend. We did show and tell Friday so I could learn their interests and we did gratitude Thursday where we shared what we were greatful for. This I did with my 4 -6 classes. But the news Monday and show and tell Friday could be done with younger classes as well.


A good teacher listens,not just to what the child is saying but also to what the child is not saying. A good teacher reads a child’s behaviour and should immediately respond to the first sign of a loud child being quiet or a confident child exhibiting anxiety for example.

A good teacher also listens to a parent. She does not dismiss awareness fears or concerns, knowing that a parent knows their child best.

One of my examples here is of a student who continually leaned his head to one side and squinted his eye when doing worksheets or puzzles. I wondered if he prehaps had a vision problem and suggested his parents take him for an eye exam. He came back wearing glasses.

Sometimes parents or teacher miss an obvious issue because a child acts differently at home and at school, but by listening and watching a teacher and parent can work together to be a child’s greatest advocate.


A good teacher is organised. She knows that with good organizational skills her class will run more efficiently and with less disruption to the children.

I remember walking into one classroom, mid first term to find a classroom of chaos and children who were certainly not settled enough to listen well. This later became my favourite year ever to teach but it took a lot of organisation to get these 33 little ones to become calm, learn to listen and settle into their classroom without major disruptions.

One of the ways I maintained morning calm time as the children arrived was to set each table with a quiet time activity and each child could then drop their bags, say bye to mom and dad and settle at their table to start the morning quietly. This made it easy for me to focus on their skills, so I would give each child and activity they needed to build a skill they were not strong at and it also made the transition to circle time much easier.


A good teacher is on her students level at all times. She knows how to remain a role model and authorities figure but also how to stop the day from being boring.

Preschoolers have small windows of concentration and vast interests. We all know children learn best through play and in topics that interest them.

A good teacher knows how to use this knowledge to her advantage to keep her class engaged throughout the day.

By introducing themes with enthusiasm, bringing in props, encouraging hands on activities or fun crafts a teacher not only gains her pupils concentration, trust and respect but she develops a love of learning within each pupil.

A teacher who loves to teach produces learners who love to learn.

I have some of the best moments with my class dressing up for occupation day, working on huge South African flags together, drawing outside with handmade chalks and turning our classroom into a paper making studio for the day.

Easy transition

If children are left with too long a period of time transitioning between activities they become bored and restless.

Transitioning from circle time to art centre’s and then to work stations should be quick, with little disruption. The children should not have to wait for teachers to set up first, or remove things. And this is where a teacher and her assistant should work in unison.

My pet peeve is watching a group of unsupervised 4 year olds waiting outside a toilet all fidgeting and bored. These times can be used to sing songs, play clapping games, practice colours, etc and keep the kids entertained as they wait to take their turn. With just a little effort a teacher can make these boring activities less chaotic.

Learning through play

A preschool teacher knows the importance of learning through play and because of this structures her lessons to mostly be through games and hands on activities, ensuring that all the kids get a turn. She watches which pupils struggle with the activity and is reminded to focus similar games on them.

She knows that you can teach anything by introducing a playful element and her classroom often reflects this through various centre’s being introduced.

One of the most fun lessons we have had was when Hamish at 2, and I built a river in the garden to watch how the rain fell onto the mountains into the river and down to the sea. He spent hours sailing little paper boats on his river and ocean. Later he was able to tell his father the process as well as differentiate the features of a river and ocean. He also understood which items would float and which would sink from watching the stones sink and the twigs float. While this may have seemed like a little boy just playing, it was actually a young scientist discovering his world.


As much as learning through play is important your teacher knows some lessons need to be introduced through worksheets and that there needs to be a time set aside to teach skills like scissor cutting, letter writing,etc

This is especially important in the Grade R year as a child starts to develop the independence and skills needed for their first year of the school the following year. A good teachers knows how to use a curriculum to her classes best learning advantage.

I’ve often believed a curriculum is a broad guide, one to add onto, take from and enhance depending on your class.


A good teacher shows her students, from the very first lesson, that they can do it.

By encouraging independence you build a child’s self confidence, self esteem and give them the courage to try new things.

I remember working with one of my mom’s to first have her stop carrying her 5 year old into school. To allow him to be responsible for putting his bag down and leaving her at the door. Within weeks he became a less anxious child, willing to try more.


No child notices if you can’t sing but all kids like Singing.

My favourite memory is of having my babies come into their class to friendly nursery rhymes in the morning. This set the day on a happy note for us.

My older kids would sing at circle time, we would break out in song if we were bored and i could and still do make up the most nonsense in songs to teach a theme or topic.


Yes, I said it. A great preschool teacher is a friend, a mother, a teacher but she also sadly needs to teach boundries and rules.

Discipline levels often differ in schools but I find that in honestly a class that is engaged, Fun and has a good teacher usually is organised and has less discipline problems.

I’m personally not a fan of the time out chair or corner, and I choose to distract a child or change their activity before it escalates into inappropriate behaviour.

But there are times when a child must be reprimanded and take the consequences for their behaviour. This teaches a child to become productive members of society later on.

Final note

Every good teacher goes home still thinking of her pupil, worrying about that little girl with the bruise or that little boy who is still not speaking. She spends countless hours trying new methods to get Jimmy to count to 5 and she often has weekends where she cuts things, builds things or makes things for the following weeks class.

She knows the words to every Barney song, has her classes favourite books in her car and her Pintrest account is so full of ideas that she knows she most likely won’t get to try.

Her words are kind. She gets down at eye level to her pupils and she knows you can fix everything with a warm hug, and a bit of magic.

In essence …..a good teacher knows that the preschool years are the building blocks to every child’s future and she respects the most important and valuable part she plays in the life of every child who sits in her class.

A good preschool teacher is the heart of every future doctor, lawyer, bussinessman, vet, cleaner, mother, father and president.

Can you afford not to be a great, amazing, fantastic and invested preschool teacher?


This post goes out with love to every wonderful preschool teacher for all the unpraised things you do every day. May you always know the difference you make.

3 Replies to “The traits of a truly great preschool teacher”

  1. I love this post so much Judy. So detailed and so well expressed. It feels like home reading it. I felt it all and experienced it too. It is so important to know if you are meant for this or not and to not disadvantage the lives one will impact if you are not meant to be in this profession. It’s such a brilliant post.

    1. Thank you my friend. As an amazing teacher whose heart is always thinking about little ones I truly value you opinion in this post ❤

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.