Friday, November 13, 2009

What are the Qualities of America's Top College Professor?

An article in today's Wall Street Journal on the quest to be named as America's top college professor highlights the difficulties of pursuing and being rewarded for excellent teaching in an era when publishing dominates in tenure decisions.

While that point certainly resonates with (and concerns me) as I aspire to attain such status in my career, what stood out in the article were two key qualities cited by interviewees: empathy and liking students.

In my experience, the ongoing challenge is to see the material through the eyes of the student -- not primarily through my eyes. In so doing, I become just as much a student as the "students" who sit in my class. In other words, as students learn, the teacher learns.

During this process I believe you can't help but like your students. And they know it if if you care deeply and profoundly and show it in the classroom and during individual interactions -- and they know it if you don't. I believe you can't hoodwink any audience (nor should you want to if you're teaching in higher education) -- especially today's undergraduate and graduate students.

Realizing these attributes day in and day out is a tall order. I offer a big round of applause to the three individuals described in this article who've been able to do so steadily over the years.

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