What Makes an Amazing College Teacher?

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Professors, lecturers and even TAs and aspiring academics are united in higher education by their responsibility to teach. The purpose of academia is, after all, learning as much as possible with the intention of passing that knowledge on to future generations who can continue to advance the field.

Unfortunately, teaching isn’t necessarily every academic’s primary strength. Many academics well-known for innovative research or brilliant publications struggle to keep students engaged in the classroom. Those striving to become the best possible higher educators should consider the following characteristics shared by the best college teachers:

Teaching Style

A higher education teacher’s style is the all-encompassing manner in which they present themselves and their ideas in the classroom. Style is how a professor dresses, the type of language a lecturer uses, the materials a TA employs to explain a concept and engage students. The best teachers can use their style to generate and maintain student interest. An online teaching course that focuses on strategies for engaging students in higher education can be invaluable for those looking to become better teachers at the college level.

Communication

Students and teachers become frustrated when communication fails: Students cannot understand the material, and teachers don’t understand students. Thus, it is of critical importance that college-level teachers strive to communicate as clearly as possible, using understandable language to explain even the simplest concepts. The best teachers carefully  avoid jargon and tie concepts together to reinforce learning.

Knowledge

It should go without saying that an effective teacher in higher education has a deep understanding of the material they teach. However, professors should be careful to update their knowledge over time. Then, teachers can be certain they are passing along the most accurate information to their students, who will be better equipped in their studies going forward.

Organization

Many professors expect teaching to be easy because they are so knowledgeable about course material, but teaching is about more than being an expert in one’s field. Planning course material for the semester, preparing for daily lessons, instructional aids, and other essential teaching tasks require intense organizational skills. Some professors can rely on TAs for much of this work, but most college-level lecturers are responsible for their own classroom preparation.

Enthusiasm

Excitement is infectious. A teacher who is passionate about their work and who displays a positive attitude is likely to create a classroom of students with similar mindsets. When the learning environment is fun, students are more likely to attend class and participate — which ultimately means they are more likely to retain information and apply it later on.

Interest

The average teacher manages over 3,000 students during their career, but the best teachers continue to develop a personal interest in the success of each student they encounter. Because students in higher education are adults, they demand respect and fair treatment; teachers should value students as individuals and strive to adapt their teaching styles to ensure every student gets what they need from their course.

Creativity

Students grow weary of the same presentation style day-in and day-out, even if their teacher is knowledgeable, organized and excited. Teachers need to be flexible and creative, shifting their methods of conveying information to keep their classrooms engaged. One way to drive creativity in teaching is to break up a course period into three different activities that reinforce the day’s lessons. For example, part of the period might involve a traditional lecture, part a Socratic dialogue and part a group activity.

Integrity

To feel receptive to new ideas, students need to know the rules of their classrooms from the first day, and they need to be confident those rules won’t change on the teacher’s whim. Being upfront and honest about preferences and expectations is key for teachers at higher levels. Teachers should also be patient and compassionate with their students, and they should strive for equitable grading and testing.

Commitment

Not all academics find employment at universities with the hope to teach. However, regardless of how one comes to teaching, professors should be committed to doing the best possible job in the classroom.

Academics know that it is always possible to improve. Teachers at the university level should strive to inspire and educate, which is what will make them amazing.