become a better professor
Someone sought me out recently to say that she’d tried something I had recommended and it didn’t work. “You need to stop recommending that to people,” she told me. “How many times did you try it?” I asked. “Once and the students hated it,” she responded. This rather direct feedback caused me to revisit (and revise) a set of assumptions that can create more accurate expectations when implementing new instructional approaches.
I am on my way to speak at another professional development day at a college. I do these events with misgivings—frequently persuading myself on the way home that I really shouldn’t be doing them.
Some time ago, a colleague and I reviewed the literature on interventions to improve instruction. If I were to do that paper again, I would pay special attention to those changes that improved student learning. The research we looked at then did not give workshops very high marks. If teachers changed, they did so right after the event, but soon reverted to their old ways of doing things
My students have taught me some invaluable lessons during my first two years as a college professor. I’d like to share three of the most important ones here. They aren’t new lessons and I didn’t use any unique methods to learn them. I collected data midsemester from students, I talked with them, and I looked closely at what was happening in my classroom. The lessons were there for me to learn, and taken together they have helped me think more clearly about what I want my students to know and do, and who I want them to become. They are lessons that have made me a better teacher.
The quest to identify the ingredients, components, and qualities of effective instruction has been a long one. Starting in the 1930s, researchers sought to identify the common characteristics of good teachers. Since then, virtually everybody who might have an opinion has been asked, surveyed, or interviewed. Students have been asked at the beginning, middle, and end of their college careers. Alumni have been asked years after graduating. Colleagues within departments and across them have been asked, as have administrators, from local department heads to college presidents.
It’s been a while since I was an undergrad, but I still remember my two favorite professors. They had completely different personalities and teaching styles, they even taught in different departments, but they did some things in very similar ways. I think that’s what made them so effective. It really wasn’t the content — although that was part of it — it was more the classroom experience they created.
“Self-knowledge is the beginning of all knowledge,” writes C. Roland Christensen, one of the true masters of discussion teaching. He is referring to his development as a teacher—how he arrived at the techniques that made him so effective. Most teacher accounts of growth are not as instructive and insightful as this one. Best of all, the approach he used to develop his discussion leadership skills is one that can be used to develop many teaching skills.
For most teachers, a room full of bright students is the stuff dreams are made of. Unless, of course, you’re teaching a course that’s outside of your area of expertise – then it can be a nightmare. You feel like an imposter, and worry that your students will call you out. You cram for each class like you’re back in school.
I have observed, sometimes in myself and sometimes in colleagues, a certain tendency to be ironically unaware of (or inattentive to) a crucial disconnect between what we say and what we do. We’re good at talking the talk, but we are not so good at walking the walk, particularly in terms of our audience awareness.
What we teach and how we teach it are inextricably linked. This special report helps you discover new ways to build strong connections between the two with strategies for engaging students, giving feedback, creating a climate for learning, and more.
The sheer volume of content faculty members are responsible for teaching is enormous, but being an effective educator takes much more than the mastery and delivery of material. It requires unique skills and knowledge that most new higher education instructors were never trained in. For newcomers, the challenges can seem overwhelming. […]