Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 10/10.1.2

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Are teachers born or made?


It is a question that is almost as old as the hills. Are teachers born to teach in front of a room of eager students, with a naturally patient and friendly personality that makes them successful, or are teachers made through all their education classes, molded through their classroom observations and classroom management courses? Better yet, is it a little bit of both situations that helps to create a successful teacher? From some research, it would seem that most agree that teachers are made, that to believe teachers are born is to believe an outdated myth meant to scare away potential teachers. However, other people believe that yes, teachers are born with a certain personality that makes them amenable to teaching, but that also they are refined through their education classes. No one is born with all the classroom management techniques needed for a successful classroom, they say. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those that believe that it is merely a matter of education that creates a successful teacher. Let us take a look at these different views, and see where you might stand on this age-old issue.

€œEither You Got It Or You Don't€: Teachers are born[edit]

Kindergarten or Special Education teacher - US Census Bureau.jpg

Those who are said to have the gift of teaching, more often than not, do not really know that they have that special gift. Yet when they are in a teaching situation, anything from volunteering to teach crafts at a local scout camp to even just showing a family member how to fix a computer for example, something happens inside of them. These kinds of people instinctively know what to do and how to manage the classroom. They have a natural, patient rapport with the students, and they know how to help the students learn what they need to know.

The perfect example of such a teacher was reported in the San Diego-Union Tribune in an article titled Construction teacher builds on his success. Ozzie Roberts, a regular writer for this newspaper, reports on a man named Glenn Hillegas, a former high school shop teacher at Scripps Ranch High School who is now director of Construction Tech Academy at Kearny High School in San Diego County.

When Hillegas was in his early teens, his mother and aunt taught students with emotional disturbances in Riverside, California. He himself had gone through some family issues, what with an alcoholic father and divorce, and he had just moved to the San Diego area with his mother. At the age of 13, Hillegas walked into their classrooms one day, and he knew immediately what he could do to help them, and how to do it.

He mentored the kids; got right down with them and helped them see beyond their challenges. And when he, in turn, saw them respond to his counsel, he promptly told himself that he would be a teacher for the rest of his life€ (Roberts, 2003).

From that day on, Hillegas became a very successful teacher. In the 1980s, he first taught in the San Diego area at various schools for students with emotional challenges. Later on, as a shop teacher, he became renowned for a one-on-one teaching method to help his students learn. In 1998 he was even named one of four San Diego County Teachers of the Year (Roberts 2003).

For him, it was all purely instinct, and he knew how to help students based on his own experiences in an abusive home. €œGive kids understanding and the proper environment, Hillegas says, and they soar. And it is the great teachers who just seem to know that instinctively€ (Roberts 2003).

It takes a village to teach a teacher: Teachers are made[edit]

“Greatness is often overlooked because the performer makes the exhibition look so easy that one mistakenly thinks, "Anyone can do that!" This seems especially true for the teaching profession€ (Prusak and Vincent 2005).

Of all the professions in the world, perhaps no other profession looks as easy as teaching does. It looks easy to get up in front of a classroom and teach the students what they need to know, all while holding their attention. However, as with any public profession, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make it look that easy. It is like the pianist who practices for hours on end before the big competition, able to run their fingers up and down the keys in time to difficult sonatas and concertos that may seem unfathomable to the average listener. The pianist makes it look so easy, like anyone can do that without even blinking an eye. Of course, a lot of training goes into making it look so effortless; so it is with teaching. A lot of teaching has to do with knowing the right strategy to use at the right time, and of course that certainly does not happen naturally.

Those who are advocates for the “teachers are made” side believe that if teachers were really born to be in their job, then why even have education programs? As Prusak and Vincent wrote in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance:

"If teachers are simply born to teach, why then do we have teacher education programs? Would we not be as well served to line up 1,000 hopeful teachers and watch them teach? Those who were able to demonstrate that they were indeed born with the gift would be given jobs, and the rest would be encouraged to look elsewhere" (Prusak and Vincent 2005).

Instead, the consensus seems to be that the skills required to become a great teacher are learned from practice and years of hard work. Even if you are not a natural teacher, you can acquire the necessary skills to become an effective instructor; it might take you longer, but it can be done (Svinicki 1995). Sam Dietz even adds in the TCU Magazine article Myths Behind the Blackboard, that great teachers have worked for years to acquire their skills, and that it comes naturally for very few people:

Teachers need to learn to suppress criticism, harsh tones, and other forms of punishment. They need to stress what is positive to help a child learn how to behave well. In academics as well as in skills of character, common sense alone cannot prepare a teacher to accomplish these difficult tasks€ (Dietz, 2007).

However, it can also come down to the 'good' v's 'great' teacher. Good teachers can be born, great teachers are made. Richard M. Reis, a professor at Stanford University shares this view. In his article, "What Makes a Good Teacher" he discusses that many teachers arriving in classrooms shortly after graduation are very well prepared, received, and liked. A select few of these people are born with a desire to teach therefore they are good at it. After years of experience in the field, Mr. Ries believes he too started out as a good teacher but would like to believe that he, along with his colleagues, are now great teachers. It takes experience to become a great teacher. There are methods, values, and tools that only an experienced teacher will know. This seems to be a significant point in the born or made teacher debate. You can start out as a good teacher and become a great one.

Genetics and Education: A successful combination[edit]

No one is born with all the classroom management techniques that they need to know, and that is a process that can sometimes take years to master (Dietz 2007).

Why does everything have to be black and white, when the gray area is so much better? If you are not born with the patience to teach, can you still teach? If you have taken all the education classes in the world, and you still hate being in the classroom, can you be a successful teacher? That lovely gray area between sheer talent and intestinal fortitude has to be reserved for the majority of teachers, who may or may not have the original talent, but who have had enough education and experience to be a truly successful teacher.

For most people, teaching is not necessarily something that you are either “born€ to do or simply “made€ to be. Some say that individuals might have the personality traits and the right mind-set to become a teacher, but also that education programs offer a lot of valuable information to upcoming teachers that just does not come naturally (Malikow, 2005–2006). No one is born with all the classroom management techniques that they need to know, and that is a process that can sometimes take years to master (Dietz 2007).

In Marilla Svinicki's essay The Seven Deadly Comments That Get In The Way of Learning About Teaching, Svinicki talks about this eternal question of “are teachers born or made.

..if only born€™ teachers were allowed in the classroom, there would be a severe shortage of instructors especially in higher education, where very few actually identify themselves as teachers in the first place€ (Svinicki 1995).

Instead, every teacher, in his or own way, combines their own natural talents with what they have learned along the way in education courses to make their classrooms successful. In fact, some say that it is almost pointless to even try to figure out where one ends and the other begins; each one contributes to the other (Burgoyne and Timpson 2002). Over the years, the teacher improves through his or her own feelings on how to become even better teachers, and some even actively seek feedback from their students and peers on how well they are doing.


Even now in this day and age, when humans seem to have figured out many things that were mysteries for centuries, there is really no clear answer for whether teachers are born, made, or a little bit of both. Some still believe you have to be born into it, others believe teachers are made through their education and experiences, and others are in the middle. Since teaching is truly a personal relationship between the student and the teacher, the success or failure of a teacher cannot be measured by how much education or talent the teacher has, but by the end results: the success of the students. Whatever your opinion might be on this issue, it will definitely be discussed for more years to come, and who knows if a consensus will ever be found.

Sources Cited[edit]

Dietz, Sam (Winter 2007). Myths behind the blackboard. TCU Magazine, Retrieved January 30, 2008, from

Malikow, M (2005–2006). Are teachers born or made?: The necessity of teacher training programs. National Forum of Teacher Education Journal - Electronic, vol. 16, No. 3E. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from,%20Max%20Are%20Teachers%20Born%20or%20Made-The%20Necessity%20of%20Teacher%20Training%20Programs.pdf

Prusak, K.A., & Vincent, S.D. (2005). Is your class about something? Guiding principles for physical education teachers; quality programs need to focus on a purpose, or vision, and guiding principles can help to establish that focus. JOPERD—The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 76.6, Retrieved January 31, 2008, from

Roberts, Ozzie (2003, January 28). Construction teacher builds on his success. San Diego Union-Tribune, Retrieved January 30, 2008, from

Svinicki, Marilla D. (1995) The Seven Deadly Comments that Get in the Way of Learning About Teaching In T.A. Heenan and K.F. Jerich (ed.) Teaching Graduate Students to Teach: Engaging the Disciplines. Proceedings of the Fourth National Conference on the Training and Employment of Graduate Teaching Assistants. (pp. 13–17) Champain, IL: Office of Conferences and Institutes, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved February 2, 2008 from

Timpson, William, & Burgoyne, Suzanne Teaching & Performing: Ideas for energizing your classes. Madison, WI, Atwood Publishing 2002. Retrieved January 31, 2008 from

Richard M. Reis, What Makes a Good Teacher. Standford University. Retrieved April 22, 2208 from

It's Quiz Time: Assess What You Read[edit]

1. Prusak and Vincent believed that if teachers were born to be in their profession, then: a. why even have education programs? b. what purpose does education have? c. they would still need more education d. none of the above

2. If teaching skills do not come to you naturally, Svinicki believed that: a. extra schooling is necessary b. you can still acquire the necessary skills, but it might take more time c. it’s a hopeless case d. both A and B

3. Is it possible to find where a teacher’s natural talent begins and his/her classroom experience begins, according to Burgoyne and Timpson? a. Yes; you either have the talent for teaching or you don't. Why worry about experience? b. Yes; teaching is just knowing the right strategy to use, there's no natural talent involved c. No; teaching is nothing but experience d. No; each part contributes to the other so it is impossible to discern

4. How did Glenn Hillegas knew that he wanted to be a teacher? a. He wanted to be a teacher ever since he was a child (playing Teacher with his siblings) b. He took some classes in college and decided after just a week that he would continue with education c. he visited his mother’s class of emotionally disturbed children and knew how to help them d. Teaching ran in his family, so he continued with the tradition

5. According to Dietz, what else do teachers need to learn how to do successfully, besides learning the basic classroom management? a. They must use their common sense b. They must learn to suppress any kind of punishment c. They must accentuate positive aspects to teach a child good behavior d. both B & C

Answers: 1.a 2.b 3.d 4.c 5.d