The secret to great teaching

Okay, it’s no secret, but I loved this piece in the Times about the importance of emotionally connecting with your students:

Great teachers understand that the best, most durable learning happens when content sparks interest, when it is relevant to a child’s life, and when the students form an emotional bond with either the subject at hand or the teacher in front of them. [emphases mine] Meaningful learning happens when teachers are able to create an emotional connection to what might otherwise remain abstract concepts, ideas or skills.

Creating this emotional connection might sound like a daunting task, but research has shown that the investment reaps huge dividends in the form of increased learning and better grades. When teachers take the time to learn about their students’ likes, dislikes and personal interests, whether it’s racial issues brewing at their school, their after-school job, or their dreams and goals, learning improves.

Yes!  Now, I know some of my students think it is a waste of time when I solicit their input on a Mazda 3 versus VW Jetta or tell the latest story of something crazy one of my kids has done, but what these open up is opportunities for connection, as my sharing invariably sparks reciprocal sharing.  No, it’s not Duverge’s Law, but when I do get to Duverge’s Law, there’s more investment on the part of the students.

My class this summer was intense– 3 weeks, 2:45 every day, and only 8 students.  It really felt like we all knew each other and we were all in this together and honestly, it was probably the best classroom experience I’ve ever had.  I had universally positive feedback, and I know that the students learned a ton.

On a related note, I also just came across this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that looks at the personality characteristics of effective college teachers.  Not to be immodest (okay, a little), but I felt pretty damn good when I looked down this checklist (though, that creative one definitely does not fit me)..  Of course, it my experience these are very much the qualities of the favorite professors I had– and who I have striven to emulate.  I really liked this one:

They seem to enjoy what they do. Some faculty members don’t really like students. They are the academics who constantly whine about their workload and complain about how rude or unprepared their students are. I’ve often wondered: Why are such people even in this profession? What did they expect? The teachers I remember as the very best were those who clearly loved teaching and got a kick out of associating with students every day. After all, no one wants to feel like a nuisance, which is exactly how some teachers make their students feel.

Yep.  I love what I do.  And I’m pretty sure it shows.  And I’m pretty sure it actually pays off in my students learning more.  When I talk to our grad students about teaching, I encourage them to find their passion– to the extent that they can– in whatever they are teaching that day.  You get that, and things will almost surely work out okay for professor and student.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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