What is your definition of a ‘good’ teacher?

In a recent article published in the journal Active Learning in Higher Education (2009, 10: 172-184) Bantram and Bailey explored the responses of students to this very question at a university in the UK. Four predominant themes were noted (in relative order of importance):

  1. Teaching Skills: Students felt that an effective teacher explained ideas and concepts well; motivated and sustained student interest; used active-learning techniques; and acted as a facilitator to encourage and guide learning.
  2. Personal Qualities: Students valued personal qualities such as, “…being kind, helpful, patient, enthusiastic and having a sense of humor.”
  3. Relationships with Students: Students appreciated instructors who were friendly, approachable, and took the time to “get to know” them.
  4. Teacher Knowledge: Subject-matter expertise and knowledge emerged as the lowest ranked theme.

They summarized that, “…students appear to define good teaching largely on the basis of a range of skills and attributes that emphasize empathy and aspects of interpersonal relationships.” These findings support Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) classic Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, where an effective teacher is described to:

  1. Encourage contact between students and faculty;
  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students;
  3. Encourage active learning;
  4. Give prompt feedback;
  5. Emphasize time on task;
  6. Communicate high expectations; and,
  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

The reality is that effective teaching goes much beyond developing subject matter expertise. From my experiences in higher education great teachers share two common characteristics: an extraordinary sense of humility; and, a strong commitment to continual improvement, based upon a fundamental motivation to inspire student success.

Author: natashakenny

Senior Director, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Interdisciplinary academic and professional background in educational development, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

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