I have been fortunate enough to participate in UNL’s Preparing Future Faculty program this summer and fall. Throughout the process I have reflected numerous times on teaching, specifically my own thoughts on teaching and my experiences in the classroom (as an undergraduate and graduate student in addition to as a teaching assistant). I am lucky to have been/be in the classroom learning history and learning how to teach from some of the finest professors. During my time in the class room, a few commonalities stick out:
Good teachers are clear. Clarity seems to be the most important aspects of good teaching. Good teachers make clear the expectations of students, the delivery of the course material and the structure of their course, class sessions, assignments and exams. Though not every student may not be the best listener, the best professors make sure miscommunication is kept to a minimum, something students seem to appreciate.
Presents would also stick out in the classroom had professors given them out, but I am talking about something a little harder to describe. There’s not an easy way to describe classroom presence that good teachers have, but it is obvious when professors have it. It’s a confidence and energy that draw students in, without resorting to simple efforts to entertain in the classroom. It’s lectures that have clear, but also compelling narratives. The best professors create a class that students want to attend, even if attendance is not required.
Like presence, respect is a bit of a vague term to describe the way in which good teachers build a classroom that allows students to feel safe when expressing opinions. It also encompasses a phenomenon I’ve noticed of good teachers, in that they approaching teaching as an important craft. They see students as people whose points of view should be understood and minds respected. Students are not simply raw materials ready to be molded. The best professors carry a presence in the classroom, but also respect students enough to make the classroom about the students and their learning, not just the professor and what she or he has to say.
High (but fair) Expectations
Good teachers know their audience well enough to challenge their students. In this way, professors craft assignments and courses designed to push the students out of their comfort zone, but not too far so that professors end up expecting freshmen to think as seniors and seniors as graduate students. Expectations is one of the most difficult things I deal with as a TA. My first semester in graduate school was also only a few months after being an undergraduate, but, as I learned, there is a big difference between senior history major and freshman just trying to pass the history requirement. While understanding the limitations of students at various levels is important, not diluting the material is equally if not more important. The best professors manage their expectations, knowing how to bring out the best of students without making the course overwhelming.