I asked some former students for suggestions on teaching that I could share with other professors. Specifically I asked them, "how do you know the first day or so of class that this is going to be a good class? Especially if it’s a class with a lot of work, what does it take to really motivate you?"
Here are some of their responses:
- One thing is how excited the teacher is. Is he/she ready for class? Does he/she want students to succeed?
- I think that a teacher should never tell the class that he/she has not taught the class in a while or even let the class know that he/she is not prepared for class. The teacher is the one in charge, never let the class know that you are not. As the old saying goes: Fake it till you Make It. You are supposed to be the expert. <I was in a summer class where> the professor sent emails out about a week before class started stating that the syllabus was not ready and would probably not be ready till the night of the class. This is information that I did not need to know. Many professors don't post the syllabus; they hand it out on the first night of class. If he had never said anything, how would we have know the difference?
- College students pay good money for their class and most want to get a good education, they want to learn something. They want to feel that their professor is involved and excited to be teaching them. Some of the best professors that I have had were the ones that were excited about what they were teaching, they knew about the topic and were able to get the students to understand it. They controlled the class and got the class involved.
- The work load does not matter too much to me. If I know that it is worth it in the end, I will do the work. If I know that the professor cares about the job that I do it makes it even better. Students don't want to hear that they spent all this time and energy on an assignment to find out that the professor didn't care what was done or even the quality of the work that was done. So basically, I feel that the professor's attitude towards the subject and to the class determines a lot about what the students feel towards the class.
- Typically I can read through the syllabus (especially if it's posted prior to the first day) and get a pretty good impression of the teacher's sense of responsibility - how much responsibility they feel they have, or are willing to take on, to shape our lives; their enthusiasm based on their objectives and assignments; and whether the assignments look a lot like busy work, or if it will be work that will aid in both our/my understanding and real world applications.
- Throughout the semester, especially on the first day, attitude, personality, and energy are key characteristics that tell me about the teacher, their style, and their class!
- Attitude: For example, if the teacher displays an extremely laid back attitude, I might infer that they are just easy going; don’t like the students to be too stressed out about the class because it could interfere with the learning process. Or I might conclude that the teacher is bored with the subject/topic because they’ve taught it so long; a “here we go again” attitude.
- Personality: Naturally want to have a teacher that I can identify with, in one way or another, on a personal level: whether it is the desire for achievement, to make others laugh and/or have fun, a realistic and upfront person, or even someone who is sarcastic. I think any student is more likely to pay more attention in class if they feel like the teacher acts more like a real human being with flaws, quirks, and habits; the teacher should be reachable and attainable.
- Energy: Hey, if they don’t want to be there in class, trust me, the students don’t want to either. I personally do not like attending night classes because I have to drive home late in the evening and get up really early the next day for work. If I didn’t have to go to work so early, like when I was a server at a restaurant, I wouldn’t have a problem. Again, personally, since that is not the case, I want a teacher that makes me want to be in class. That means, a teacher who is prepared (someone ready to go), organized, and ready to spark what little energy I have left at the end of the day. Please don’t think that I’m implying that I want a teacher that acts like they are “hyped up on uppers”, but I want someone that is actually interested in what they are teaching and is on a mission to also make their students interested in the subject. I want them to be able to influence me to not look at their class as just another requirement or prerequisite, or a class that I need just to pass to graduate; I want to go there feeling like I need to know this material (at least some of it) for my future!
- I think it is important to add that I do not like school! I’ve said that for years; I haven’t liked it since recess and lunch (hope that gave you a chuckle)! However, it is also important for you not to confuse my aversion to this institution called school, with my extreme desire to learn, be educated, and expand my mental horizon, if you will. Knowledge is power! I believe there are very few students that say they like/love school (not including preschool and kindergarten aged children); or there’s few who will admit it, especially being that college is so expensive. Financial burdens are a whole other demon, for lack of a better adjective, that negatively influences one’s attitude toward school. So, based on this, a teacher can motivate me by addressing my desire to learn; help me forget about the institution, how much the class/books cost me and especially how school is making it more difficult to juggle my personal life.
- Motivate me by making class interesting and fun. Let’s talk and interact with each other. Of course I want to be prepared for the test, but don’t “teach to the test”. I am motivated when a teacher provides me with a learning experience!
- I don’t like to have classes with a lot of work mainly because I don’t have a lot of time, but if there’s going to be work, it better be important!!!
I thought the students' comments were interesting and great advice for all of us who teach!