Division of Academic Affairs
Meg Morgan and Tom Cook, Graduate Assistant for the Center for Teaching and Learning, talk about five things successful teachers do in the classroom. These include passion, knowing the content deeply, preparation, student accountability and humor.
Meg and Tom: Welcome to Teaching and Learning Matters.
Meg: This is Meg Morgan, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and a Faculty Associate with the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.
Tom: This is Tom Cook, Teaching Intern for the Department of English and Graduate Assistant for The Center for Teaching and Learning. Today, we are going to talk about five things successful teachers do in the classroom.
Meg: Tom brings a youthful and unbiased perspective to this discussion, and I bring over 40 years of teaching experience. Tom will begin.
Tom: It may be youthful vigor, it may be naiveté, or it may simply be that I love what I do; regardless, my most important successful teacher attribute is passion. The field of teaching is not for people who do not want to be here. Care about your teaching, care about your students, and care about being your best every time you interact with your students. Successful teaching starts with passion; you can pick-up teaching methods along your journey, but there is no substitute for being passionate.
Meg: Successful teachers, whether new or experienced, must know deeply the content they are teaching. This does not mean that you will be an expert in all the details, but you must know the various perspectives of the content. While knowing the content from your perspective as a teacher is very important, it is even more important to know the content from your students’ perspectives.
For example, while the political aspects of the invasion of Iraq in 1991 seems pretty recent to some of us, to most students this happened before they were born. To teach well, you need to know what aspects of your content students will find easy or difficult, engaging or boring. And, while we as teachers cannot anticipate every question, we should understand their perspective enough so that we can anticipate some questions students might ask or confusions they might have. So, one of the most important things a teacher must do is shape the content to meet the needs of their students.
Tom: To exude passion, successful teachers need to be prepared. Preparation, combined with a strong work ethic will allow you to stay personally motivated, as well as, motivate your students to reach above and beyond their limits. Preparation is not just having your materials ready; it is an awareness of meeting your student’s needs on a daily basis. Begin to see yourself as a motivator of students, as someone who is consistently prepared, and as someone who refuses to be outworked.
Meg: Many college and university classes are getting bigger and bigger. In large classes, it is very difficult to make every student accountable when they can access information on your website or get notes from other students in a blink of an eye. Given this, I still believe that every student must be made accountable for every class you teach. If you work to prepare for the class, they must work to show that they have heard what you have prepared.
In a small class, this accountability is easy: students can participate in class discussions; they can work in small groups to solve problems or discuss scenarios, and then report out to the rest of the class. They can take turns making oral presentations. In large classes, accountability is much more difficult. However, in this situation accountability is just as important, perhaps more important, than in a smaller class.
There are a couple of things you can do to promote accountability. First, at the end of each class, you can ask them to write a summary of the class on a 2x3 inch index card with any questions they might still have. You can read this and respond in class the next day to clarify misconceptions or answer questions.
Or you can put them in pairs to answer a question you give to them. Or you can require them to post insights on Moodle for the class to respond to. Or you can ask them to respond to a Clicker quiz. In this age of technology, these options are numerous. So, student accountability is an important aspect of being a successful teacher.
The fifth strategy to being a successful teacher is humor. Students like humor, and a good teacher encourages humor and laughter. In my experience, students become more engaged when they get caught up in a community of humor. They take themselves less seriously, are more willing to take risks in the classroom, and are often more willing to see the content of your class from multiple perspectives. They also learn an important lesson: everything has a human side and humor helps us see it.
Tom: A community of humor is important for your students, but teaching ought to also be fun and enjoyable for you. Successful teachers take the good days with the bad ones, but they are still able to find humor in their craft. Humor not only allows, like Dr. Morgan said, students to be able to enjoy a more comfortable and open atmosphere, but it allows you as the teacher to see their humanity as well as your own. Develop the ability to laugh at yourself and enjoy the opportunity that you have as an educator.
Meg and Tom: Thank you. And remember: Teaching and Learning Matters.
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