We all tend to remember the public school teachers we liked best, often from the courses we did the best in. Instructors from higher education are often not as fondly remembered due to less contact time with students and the typically more rigorous content and pace of classes. Teachers at a community, junior or technical college usually have more of an opportunity to make a impression on their students than university faculty do, and good teachers want that impression to be a positive one. These college teachers are often right out of school or coming from a high school or university position, and teaching at a college can be a very different experience. College teachers can be a good impression on their students in small ways.
Get to know the students
The best way to show students you care is to learn their names. That means you will probably have to call roll for a couple of weeks when classes first start. Teachers often use a sign-in sheet instead of taking roll, but this method shouldn’t be used unless you are showing a film or doing some other activity that will take the entire period. Ask students to correct your pronunciation or let you know if they go by a different name the first time you go through. Asking a few short questions allows you to have a brief conversation with students on the first day, which may help the names stay with you better, particularly because you get to know a little about the students. If you are still struggling with keeping them straight, make some short notes next to the names on your attendance keeper. Something like “red hair glasses” or “looks like Jeff” is probably enough to jog your memory until you get the connections down. If you can remember something about the initial chat you had but not the name, jot something about that down. Be careful not to use something that could be considered offensive just in case someone else sees those notes.
After learning the names, the next step is to use them. Greetings in the classroom or hallway make students feel special. When asking students to share information with the class or discuss an issue, call them by name. Hand back papers and exams individually by calling students’ names. This method has other good effects, as well: it helps you learn the students better and it keeps the question of privacy breach at bay. (Putting the papers on a table for students to pick up themselves leaves teachers and the college open for a lawsuit.)
Don’t rely on lecture
A good teacher also follows good conventions in the classroom. High school often tends to lend itself to discussion, but college experience is typically more lecture-based. New teachers working in a college may tend to mimic their recent university professors, creating classes largely focused on lecture. Good college teachers should certainly provide lecture information for students, but they should also allow for questions. Rushing through content makes it difficult for students to take notes and allows no time for students to absorb the details or consider what questions they might have. If you decide to ask questions yourself, wait time again is important. Even though the silence may feel uncomfortable, a good teacher will give students time to think about the answers before asking for a response.
You should also be open to questions and responses, too. Don’t be quick to say “no.” Instead, try to figure out how the student got to that decision and connect it to your point. A good way to encourage discussion and, hence, learning is to ask students to respond to each other’s questions and comments.
Good instructors aren’t born but made
Becoming a good college teacher certainly takes time and effort, just as any other profession. Good instructors have other qualities such as a firm grasp on content and availability outside class time, but using these few concepts can help students have a more enjoyable and productive experience in your classroom. We all learn better from good teachers.