Patience: What Makes A Good Professor?

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By Alisa Patience

Utah is full of great schools. One of the reasons I chose to attend the University of Utah, specifically, was because in my high school it had a reputation for having great professors. That reputation spoke to me because as a student I know that professors and teachers in general have a strong influence on students — more than they probably realize. In fact, a student passionate about a subject could even give up on that subject if their professor ruins it for them. I’ve known people who have done this, and it’s tragic to see potential passions and talents get set aside. So, what makes for a great professor? What keeps students encouraged and excited about academics?

First, a great professor actually enjoys teaching, as well as the subject they teach. It’s always disheartening to hear a professor trash talk their own subject, or ignore their subject altogether while they go on tangents. But when a professor is focused and you see their eyes light up when they give a lesson, it makes you excited and motivated to go to class and learn about what makes them so fulfilled.

Second, a great professor provides helpful feedback. Did you do poorly on an essay? A good professor should tell you what you did wrong and how to improve in the future. A good professor won’t just write in the corner, “Good start, but needs work.” This strategy may seem obvious because, after all, the point of having a professor is to help you improve.

Third, effective professors encourage students to follow their dreams and definitely don’t crush their students’ aspirations. For example, if a mathematics student doesn’t know how to solve a quadratic equation, a good professor won’t tell them to quit. They’ll be patient and teach the student how to solve the problem.

Fourth, successful professors will actively email and communicate with their students. It’s difficult to have the courage to go to a professor with questions if they haven’t made it clear that they want to help and are open to putting in extra time to do that. Opening the lines of communication between professors and students makes it both easier for students to learn and professors to teach.

Fifth, a good professor doesn’t ban food from their class. If they want to ban cell phones, then fine. Those are distracting. If they want to force us to buy expensive hard copies of books, okay. But banning food will make most, if not all, of a professor’s students dislike them. So many of us rush to class in the morning without eating breakfast and run from class to class without time for eating. In my mind any professor who understands this and allows food earns respect before they’ve taught a word of their subject. Having food isn’t really distracting, and it’s probably more distracting to sit in class daydreaming about eating it.

Sixth, a great professor will make you feel stupid. They won’t do it on purpose, but throughout their lessons they will tell you things that you didn’t already know. And the way that they say it will make it sound so simple that you’ll feel stupid for not already knowing it — that’s just how good at teaching they are. The professor won’t make fun of you for not knowing the material beforehand, or praise themselves for being smarter than you.

Good professors can make or break a class experience. Sometime they can even influence the college experience entirely. We can’t always help having some bad ones who don’t care, are unclear or don’t really understand how to teach. But we can make the most of the good ones we get and use them to maximize our educational experiences.