The Ideal Teacher of Adult Students – Seven Characteristics

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Please note that while this research was done in the area of adult basic education, the conclusions in the report clearly indicated that, “There is very little difference between the characteristics needed by the adult basic education teacher and the effective teacher in any other setting.”  This is especially true given the high numbers of underprepared students who are now showing up at college.

In 1966 Frank C. Pearce, Ph.D., prepared a report on the “needed qualities” of the ideal adult education teacher.  In that report he wrote:

The teacher’s foremost concern must be the adult student, and his effectiveness in this concern must be judged on his ability to help the student to develop and maintain self-confidence. The ideal teacher could be described as people oriented, more interested in people than things, more interested in individuality than conformity, and more interested in finding solutions than in following rules. He would be considered a mature, integrated personality that had chosen his own role and relationship to society and coveted for everyone else the same privilege.

The seven characteristics identified by Pearce were (ranked in their order of importance):

  1. Understanding
  2. Flexibility
  3. Patience
  4. Practicality
  5. Humor
  6. Creativity
  7. Preparation

The reports conclusions were:

  • The characteristics needed by an ideal basic education teacher have a variety of component parts.  They are similar to the parts of a mosaic where some parts can be taught while others are more readily acquired through the process of maturation. Moreover, the need for these characteristics will occur at varying degrees on both horizontal and vertical planes within the mosaic. This produces an overlapping condition where one essential quality is dependent upon each of the other qualities.
  • It is unlikely that any given instructor could possess all of the characteristics needed in teaching adults basic education. A balance, however, among members of the staff can be achieved.
  • The attributes needed by the effective teacher are derived from a single goal — the ability to help the student to develop and maintain self-confidence.  The essential attributes to reach this goal in order of their importance were: Understanding, Flexibility, Patience, Practicality, Humor, Creativity, and Preparation.
  • Understanding that reflects the inherent worth of every individual, emphasizing active involvement in student problems rather than sympathy leads to a learning climate where the student feels he is an integral an needed part.  This is the foremost requirement for the effective adult basic education teacher.
  • There is very little difference between the characteristics needed by the adult basic education teacher and the effective teacher in any other setting.  On the other hand, they must be present in the basic education setting, while teachers in other programs may not possess such characteristics and the programs still manage to survive.

Frank C. Pearce. “Basic Education Teachers: Seven Needed Qualities.” Adult Division, Modesto Junior College, Yosemite Junior College District, Modesto, California. September 1966.

The full report is available from ERIC here.