Saturday, September 11, 2010

6 Qualities of Good Professors

As a senior in college, I suppose I've had my share of professors of different teaching styles and personality types. I have found that some of them are much more effective at teaching than others, and would like to provide my observations so that others may learn from them.

Good professors...
  • …care about their subject. Professors who are enthusiastic about their subject tend to be more willing to talk about it for as long as they must in order to get a point across, and they tend to have more of an interest in getting students to learn the material. It is also much easier for students to take an interest in the subject if the professor is really interested in it as well, and that gives us an intrinsic motivation to do the work for the class (as opposed to the extrinsic, and thus less effective, motivation of grades).
  • …care about their students. Remember in "A Beautiful Mind," where Nash just wants to do his research, only teaches classes because he has to, and resents most of his students? Don't be that guy. Good professors actually want to instill knowledge in the heads of their pupils; the resulting teaching is much more effective. It also helps students to try harder for their classes when they know that their professors take an interest in them, and in whether they've learned or not.
  • …teach, and teach well. Your job is to make other people understand a certain subset of information (as far as they will let you - a few horses just won't drink, but most want to). It makes no difference how much you know if you can't convey it to other people. If you have a lot of students skipping class, it may be because they're finding the textbook a much more useful source of learning than you are.
  • …are interesting. Students also skip class because the professor is boring. You may argue that it isn't your job to entertain, and that's true - it's not. But, interesting professors help the subject to stick in their students' minds, and interesting professors have more folks attending class and gaining whatever information they are giving. I would actually rather have an interesting prof who's a real scalawag than a nice guy who can't hold my attention.
  • …keep the class at an appropriate difficulty. By this, I definitely mean you should err on the side of making it a little too hard if you err at all; you can curve it at the end if necessary, and you can help throughout when students need it. By making a class too easy, you do the students an awful disservice. So, create a challenge for us. Give difficult assignments. Make tough exams. Encourage studying, encourage creativity, encourage hard work. Even if we hate you now, we'll love you later.
  • …are available. Don't do the work for the students when they ask for it; encourage them to give it a real shot first. But, answer our e-mails. Be in your office hours. Give students a chance to ask questions during and after class. Most importantly, be willing to help - be willing to teach.

Basically, good professors maximize learning potential. You may get the same paycheck if you don't care and don't try and enjoy your tenure while your students flounder, but if you care at all, then please put in the effort to help us learn. We'll even tell you what works and what doesn't, if you'll ask. If you don't care, however, then please do us a favor and get a different job.


botsfri said...

This is a great list of characteristics that should be discussed as a part of every prospective Professor’s interview process, as well as the annual Performance Evaluation process. I was fortunate to have Dr. Nunn at FIT (Florida Institute of Technology) as my MSEE Advisor, and Professor in the field of Electromagnetics. Dr. Nunn would go out of his way to find technical articles for us to study that filled the elusive gaps of knowledge that exist in Electromagnetics textbooks, and he would lecture with enthusiasm to ensure our understanding of such material. The “Walter M. Nunn Jr. Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Engineering”, and “Dr. Walter M. Nunn Jr. Scholarship for Electrical Engineering Students Solely in the Field of Electromagnetics” are Florida Tech legacy reminders of his gift of teaching, enthusiasm and the invaluable imprint left with any student willing to simply do the work, and study the material he carefully put together for the student’s benefit.

Rae Botsford said...

He sounds quite cool. More professors ought to be that sort, for sure.