Four ways to be a great teacher

Attitude, engagement, preparation, passion

To remain—or become—excellent teachers, instructors should work on four qualities, writes one professor in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

"I'm not just talking about adequate, effective, or even good teachers. I'm talking about the ones who most move us, who have made the most difference in our lives, and whom we most wish to emulate," writes Rob Jenkins, English professor at Georgia Perimeter College.

As Jenkins argues, many great teachers can have a profound impact on their students by demonstrating four distinct qualities:

1. Maintain a positive character and disposition. Jenkins notes that nearly every great teacher he has had or worked alongside shared similar traits: they were approachable, funny, demanding, creative, professional, and confident. Some of these personality traits may come naturally—but those that don't should be learnable, says Jenkins.

2. Stay in the moment. It can be easy to run on autopilot through a class, Jenkins says, but he encourages professors to stay engaged and acknowledge their student audiences. Drawing on an essay by James Lang, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College, he notes that "all it takes is a degree of self-awareness, a little concentration, and a fair amount of determination."

3. Be prepared. Constantly reassessing the content and presentation of materials in courses keeps professors excited about what they are teaching, writes Jenkins. "[J]ust because you've been teaching a course for 15 or 20 years doesn't mean you shouldn't approach it each term as if for the first time," says Jenkins, encouraging professors to continuously read, attend conferences, and conduct research on their subject.

4. Care about your subject. Individuals generally become professors after falling in love with a subject area, but after years of teaching the passion may fade, writes Jenkins. But a teacher's passion can be one of the best ways to help students appreciate the subject themselves. So how to keep the flame alive? Keeping up with new developments in the field can help keep it fresh and interesting, says Jenkins. He adds that "teaching is, in a way, like a relationship. You have to work hard sometimes to keep the passion alive, and yet it's vital that you do so," he says (Jenkins, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/16).

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