characteristics of effective teachers
1. Study the knowledge base of teaching and learning.
You have chosen to teach in higher education because you are a subject-matter specialist with a tremendous knowledge of your discipline. As you enter or continue your career, there is another field of knowledge you need to know: teaching and learning. What we know about teaching and learning continues to grow dramatically. It includes developing effective instructional strategies, reaching today’s students, and teaching with technology. Where is this knowledge base? Books, articles in pedagogical periodicals, newsletters, conferences, and online resources provide ample help. Take advantage of your institution’s center for teaching and learning or other professional development resources.
When we talk about teaching effectiveness, it’s usually in the context of evaluation. Student ratings are frequently described as measures of teaching effectiveness, and that makes our understanding of the term important. Researcher Leslie Layne wondered whether students and teachers define the term similarly. If they don’t, Layne writes that understanding the differences “is crucial to faculty and administrators when interpreting student survey results.” (p. 43)
Mark Twain once remarked that “All generalizations are false, including this one.” It seems that we are in a time—an educational crossroads of sorts—when teaching is overgeneralized to the point where it can be difficult for professionals to have meaningful conversations.
Tired descriptors such as “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” have permeated the pedagogical literature for more than two decades now even though they greatly oversimplify what really takes place in the college classroom. Most teaching occurs on a continuum between these two extremes. But now the term “lecture” is equated with using didactic instruction and nothing else. It is regularly blamed for a multitude of pedagogical problems in the academy. Articles in various educational journals regularly associate teaching with telling and continue to recommend that this traditional method be completely abandoned in favor of more student-centered strategies that promote active learning.
I was recently asked by a friend and colleague to review her syllabus. She wanted to make sure she had enough policies to address all the classroom issues that now emerge. Policies regarding plagiarism, class cancellation procedures, references to various official university handbook codes, and even mandated contingencies for an H1N1 virus outbreak were dutifully laid out. Indeed, the syllabus, despite some mention of the course itself, read far more like a legal document than an introduction and a guide to a classroom experience.
I’ve seen lots of lists that identify the characteristics of good teachers. They’re great reminders of what we should aspire to be as teachers. I haven’t seen many corresponding lists that identify the characteristics of good learners. I decided to put one together and invite your input. This could be a list for our students or anybody who aspires to learn well.
A bevy of research establishes that student-faculty relationships are important on a number of fronts. For example, they predict persistence and completion in college. They impact the amount of effort students make in courses. They affect the development of students’ academic self-concepts. The authors of this analysis write: “There is evidence in the literature to suggest that the way students feel about their relationship to the professor may play an even larger role than many faculty know, or—perhaps—care to admit.” (p. 41)
Teaching face-to-face and teaching online are both teaching, but they are qualitatively different. In comparison, driving a car and riding a motorcycle are both forms of transportation, but they have enough differences to warrant additional training and preparation when switching from one to the other. The same is true when faculty move from the traditional classroom to the online classroom. There are some things that the two have in common, but there are also plenty of differences. With this in mind, consider the following eight roles of an effective online teacher.
The term “teaching effectiveness” had its heyday in the 80s and early 90s during that period when so much work on student ratings was being done. Its connection to evaluation activities remains and even end-of-course ratings are often thought of as measures of teaching effectiveness. Given its continuing importance, it is a term we should regularly revisit.
Years ago, as a young, eager student, I would have told you that a great teacher was someone who provided classroom entertainment and gave very little homework. Needless to say, after many years of K-12 administrative experience and giving hundreds of teacher evaluations, my perspective has changed. My current position as a professor in higher education gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned with current and future school leaders, and allows for some lively discussions among my graduate students in terms of what it means to be a great teacher.