Opinion: What makes a good professor?

By Francesca McKernon

Opinion Contributor

What makes a teacher or professor good? Or rather, effective in the lives of their students? This question seems to be the center of many arguments among students when choosing classes for the upcoming semester. Unfortunately, the comments we hear the most are negative ones like, “That teacher (or class) is awful. Don’t take a class with him/her.” By the time most get to college, they have a pretty firm understanding of what makes a teacher memorable, both good and bad.

While we can psychoanalyze and determine what isolated cases have caused students the most angst and frustration, leading to trigger happy Twitter fingers, there are underlying themes that bad professors, as well as good, share that make them well, what they are in their fields.

It is a given in any workfield that there will be people that are not good at what they do. It would be impossible to have an all-star team of workers. Who would be employee of the month then? Or the recipient of a teaching award? While we can acknowledge the fact that we are bound to encounter duds in all areas of our lives, whether it be friends, teachers, significant others, etc., why do we have so much trouble accepting it? Maybe we are personally offended when another person’s views or beliefs don’t align with our own, and then villainize the professor and whole system.

There are just as many issues a professor can have mechanically, as well as personally. The divide between an excellent and mediocre professor is large, and therefore provides great room for improvement. Classes that I have loved were those that the professor engaged the class, and asked questions that the students weren’t afraid to answer. A good professor will encourage learning and growth, whereas a bad professor will ask questions that everyone is too afraid to answer for fear of being wrong and social embarrassment. Suddenly, it isn’t the question or learning that matters, but being correct.

Teaching style is equally as important as the material taught in the classroom. I will say that certain subjects are geared towards lectures like history and science. However, I will argue that  a good teacher doesn’t need to solely rely on lecture style teaching to accomplish the same goal. I have had professors that lecture 75 minutes straight each class, and are surprised when students are falling asleep or not retaining 90 slides of information. A way to break up lecture style teaching is having group work where students discuss the material together and figure out what those slides mean.

The best teachers, ranging from middle school to college, are those that made me interested in the subject by engaging me in their world. One method that immerses me in the professor’s world is personal anecdotes and stories. Personal stories help break up the monotonous lecture style of teaching, as well as comically engages the students. I’ve had classes where I disliked the subject, but ended up loving the class because of the professor’s enthusiasm. The professor has the ability to make a dry subject lively and relatable, or as dry as the material actually is.

Another teaching method is teaching by doing. I find this method to be the most effective, because unlike a lecture where you can get away with not participating, physical activities require the person to learn and do things related to the topic.

Teaching, like any other discipline, is an art. How well a professor can use their art and passion to connect with the students corresponds positively to the success and characterization of a teacher as ‘good.’

Teachers are in extraordinary positions to have an effect on students’ lives. They are ultimately the lifeline between the collegiate world and ‘real world’. With that, professors can help their students mature academically and professionally, or force feed students information down their throats. Teachers can change lives for the better, or just be a bad memory.


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