Top 5 Qualities the Best AP® Teachers Should Have

An educator learning about the top 5 qualities needed to become a successful AP teacher.

Advanced Placement® teachers shoulder the significant responsibility of giving high school students a head start on their collegiate journey through AP instruction. Teaching AP courses is no easy feat; guiding high school students through an intensive college-level curriculum toward passing rigorous AP exams requires a specific skill set. This article will explore the top 5 qualities the best AP teachers must have to be effective, courtesy of a Q&A with Mike Crivello, College Readiness Content Specialist here at UWorld.

About Mike

Mike has 35 years of experience as an educator, including 28 years teaching AP English Literature and Language courses. A former AP Reader and Table Leader, he possesses ten years mentoring first-year teachers, including first-year AP teachers. He has since retired from the classroom and now writes AP content for UWorld.

Q: What would you say are the top qualities an AP teacher should have?

A: I think it’s fair to say that many qualities define an excellent AP teacher, but the following are my top 5 traits that make for highly effective AP teachers:

  1. A love of the subject area: Perhaps the most fundamental quality an AP teacher should have is loving the subject(s) they are teaching. For me, as an AP English teacher, that would be literature and language. Loving the subject drives the teacher to want to grow their knowledge of that area. 
  2. Respect for the diversity of student skills and goals: In my view, this is a core trait AP teachers should possess. We must understand that no two students are the same, even though they share a common interest in advanced academics. Treating each student as a unique individual goes a long way in developing the mutual trust and respect necessary for a healthy learning environment.
  3. An openness to student perceptions and interpretations: As AP teachers, we should be open to student perceptions and interpretations. Sure, we may be the instructor in the relationship dynamic, but a significant part of the learning experience is a willingness to learn from your students.
  4. An understanding of the multitude of demands/responsibilities placed on students outside the AP teacher’s class: When we are so focused on the task at hand—preparing our students for AP success—it can be easy to forget that these students can be under tremendous pressure outside of the classroom. The very prospect of going to college can be nerve-wracking for students, especially those who would be the first in their families to undertake the journey. Not to mention whatever other competing interests students might be wrestling with both in school and at home.
  5. A competitive spirit: Competition is prevalent across multiple industries—from sports to corporate America to academia. One could even argue that competition is an innate part of the human experience. In many ways, having a competitive spirit brings out the best in us. 

    During my tenure as an AP teacher, I viewed myself as a coach and students as my athletes whose success was in my hands. My competitive spirit compelled me to coach my students to “beat” the demands of the AP exam. Naturally, this made the AP exams our opponents in the “Tournament of AP Champions,” so practicing to conquer them together was our mutual objective.

Q: What specific hard skills should an AP teacher have to be effective?

A: You could say hard skills are where the rubber meets the road in AP teaching. I would offer the following hard skills as critical to an AP teacher’s success in the classroom:

  • Mastery of the subject area, of course
  • Familiarity with the AP exam and scoring rubric
  • Post-graduate degree(s)
  • Participation as an AP Reader
  • Experience from AP Summer Institutes
  • Facility with technology

Q: What specific soft skills should an AP teacher have to be effective?

A: Soft skills are often overlooked in teaching but can make a tremendous difference in connecting with students, which can be very impactful. I think the following soft skills in AP teachers are highly effective in AP instruction:

  • Creativity in lesson (and test) design focused on skills necessary for mastery of the AP exam
  • Perception of student strengths
  • Ability to set goals based on student weaknesses
  • Positive and sincere encouragement of students
  • Energy and enthusiasm 
  • Patience

AP Training and Resource Needs

Teachers are a valuable source of insights in developing and improving the AP program. A study by the College Board® on the characteristics of AP teachers revealed that it is important to understand teachers’ training and resource needs. That’s why teachers must be equipped with the right tools to succeed in AP instruction.

UWorld Learning Tools for AP

At UWorld, we believe that AP teachers need to be empowered with tools that make doing what they love more efficient and effective. That’s why we created our customizable Learning Tools for AP Courses.

Modeled after the official AP curriculum, our learning tools make teaching AP more manageable, save valuable time, and provide reporting so that you can make data-driven decisions. They also equip you with the tools to differentiate instruction for your students and let you incorporate subject-specific content easily into your lesson plans to better ensure your students are college-coursework ready.

Learn more about our Learning Tools for AP Courses

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