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Shopping for Dedicated Teachers? Look for These Signposts


Flora M. Brown, Ph.D.
Copyright 2006
All rights reserved

Each semester the faculty on my campus are asked to indicate on a checkoff list which follow-up activities we completed to aid student success and retention in our classes. As I completed my list for submission, it seemed to me that whether or not a teacher completes these tasks is probably a good indicator of the level of dedication to student success. What are some of these signposts of a dedicated teacher?
Provides positive feedback. In our role as teachers we have to impart a lot of information and giving assignments and tests is how we determine if that information has reached our students. What we do with students’ oral and written responses should be instructive, but also positive. This may take the form of oral response to students answers in class or written comments on tests. If you’re like most students, you comb through your graded papers and tests craving a crumb of praise or even just positive reaction to your ideas. Sarcasm and bitter verbal attacks from a teacher should be reported to your Dean of Students. Seek teachers known to give positive feedback.

Provides a variety of communicating with him or her. Every teacher is required to distribute a course syllabus the first week of class. This is more than just a bunch of objectives; it is a contract between you and the teacher identifying the goals, your part in reaching the goal, how grades are determined, and how to reach the teacher when you areabsent or have questions.

Seek teachers known to be accessible by phone, email, fax and during office hours.

Provides an atmosphere conducive to learning. Every semester a few students report that they are suffering in a class where the students’ misbehavior and disrespect is so rampant that they can’t hear the teacher lecturing. A critical job of every teacher is to create an atmosphere where you cannot only hear the lecture, but where you feel safe to participate in discussion, where you are encouraged to work in small groups for more intense projects, and where you are asked to play a role in planning your own learning. Good teachers demand and give respect. Seek teachers who keep your class on the learning track.

Provides a bridge between generations. As I was thinking about this article, I was reminded of one of my favorite USC professors and former neighbors, Dr. Earl V. Pullias. In his book, A Teacher is Many Things, he warns college teachers to avoid complacency or resting on their own accomplishments.

In addition to having the job of imparting a large body of knowledge to students, Dr. Pullias believes that good teachers play many roles as they facilitate the free flow of ideas, insight and creativity between themselves and their students. One of the most important of these is serving as a bridge. Even a young college teacher who is almost the same age as her students can play this role of bridging the past and present.

The knowledge, experiences and achievements of our past is recorded in books, articles and now the Internet. But without a teacher to help translate and excite students about this wealth of knowledge and its relevance to their lives, there is danger that the rich stories and lessons of the past will remain incomprehensible, inaccessible, and dormant. Seek teachers who can restate ideas in a clear and pleasant (if not entertaining) way.

In the search for good teachers most students ask fellow students for recommendations. This is a time-tested technique, useful, although sometimes flawed. Be sure the student giving the recommendation identifies specific tasks that lead to his/her evaluation, and is not just bitter that the teacher didn’t accept his sloppy, deficient or even disruptive class performance. Don’t act on student recommendations only. Since most colleges allow you to drop classes within the first week or two without a penalty, assess the teacher for yourself. To see what students have to say about teachers on your campus, visit http://www.whototake.net

Finally, remember that while teachers should teach, only you can learn. This means that as a student you have a great role to play in your learning. You must be in class regularly, be prepared with materials and assignments, be ready to participate in discussions, and most important, be receptive to new ideas. This way, choosing your teachers will be a small part of your college success when you recognize that teachers can assist your learning, but only YOU can do the learning.



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