Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ten Traits of Terrific Teachers

by Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC

Although this blog is addressed to parents, I hope teachers will identify and agree with the traits I describe.

Is your child struggling at school? What is his or her relationship with the teacher like?

Recently I was reminded of how NOT to teach students. My teenage daughter told me about an incident at school in which her feelings were quite hurt. Her teacher approached her and asked: "How did YOU get into Honors English? What kind of grade did you get in English before?" Ironically, my daughter has a solid "B" in the class, which isn't too bad.
Perhaps you have encountered a teacher like this one before. Now if this particular teacher thought that she was encouraging, I've got news for her. You cannot hurt someone's feelings and then expect him or her to work harder. It usually doesn't work that way. In my opinion, the best teacher is someone who helps rather than discourages, who brings out the positives and is flexible to different learning styles.

In reality, the best teacher for a child with ADHD is someone who:
1. Is a good role model and is firm and fair to all students.
2. Has a positive attitude and tries to bring out the best in students.
3. Has a well-structured classroom with an environment that is safe and comfortable.
4. Is able to assist students with transitions and help them maintain focus and attention.
5. Is flexible to different learning styles.
6. Provides a high level of expectations yet is able to assist students to achieve success when they face new challenges.
7. Provides predictability in routines and schedules.
8. Is able to provide accommodations for students with special needs.
9. Emphasizes improvement and personal best efforts
10. Offers a lot of "hands-on," engaging instruction.

Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute and serves as vice president of the board of directors of the ADHD Coaches Organization. He is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.


  1. I think #9 is so, so important!

  2. Other areas to support are teacher's ability to monitor if the student has heard the direction. Ask for paraphraing.

    Second area to monitor is student's ability to start a task soon after the directions are given.

    Third area organization of materials.

  3. Thank you! Well said,
    At our middle school we have 2 teachers who regularly use sarcasm (ridicule/mockery used harshly, often crudely and contemptuously) to make students know when they are not pleased with a student's performance or behaviors.
    I work at the school and see this regularly. Most parents only see the sweet side of these teachers.
    One teacher teaches an elective but students must take 8th grade ELA. Both teachers are vindictive to those who have spoke to them in the past about this. I have spoken with the principle but he is leaving in June.
    Any suggestions on how can this be address and monitored so students aren't discouraged?

  4. I love this list. Well done.

    There is one more item I would add to the list...Listens and takes parent concerns seriously and is open to to trying tools suggested by the parents.

    Any suggestions on how to do the above list well if you're a teacher with ADHD? Just curious.


  5. If only….I found that our school system let my son down. I can’t say what would have been and I can’t look back. As one book I read said many of us have to go through a period of mourning of what could have been. I’m not so sure now that is necessary, but those few years after my son’s diagnose were pure hell. The roller coaster of our lives still continues and all I wish for my son is to find himself and his equilibrium in life. I know there is a wonderful place for him in the world if only his creativity can lead him to that place, I also know there will be a person who will love him unconditionally, as we do as long as she gives him the opportunity to show his real self. But, oh, that roller coaster ride up and down is so hard on the body and soul. The why’s of this learning difference are not easy to explain, but those who have it have changed the world and that is something to remember.