What do all your bad college teachers have in common? Ask that to a student and see what he or she says. Not being clear about assignments and potential point deductions. Not conveying the material in an understandable way. Not infusing any real-life practicality. Poke around on some teacher review websites and you might find these criticisms running more rampant than all others. But they might not be if teachers took out the one common word in all of them—not. Removing that one word has resulted in three pieces of advice that I wrote to serve as constant reminders to myself, and they’re also the anchors of my teaching philosophy.
Be clear about assignments and scoring. That way, students will put into practice what they’re expected to learn while working on assignments instead of running deaf eyes over paper remarks after grades are no longer a factor. Also, each point deduction will be fully justified instead of seeming arbitrary.
Deliver material as if you’re teaching your undergraduate self what you didn’t know when you didn’t know it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it should be assumed that students are coming into a subject from scratch—not elementary school scratch, but intellectual scratch. Material should be delivered piecemeal, with each component spelled out as clearly as possible. It’s not that students can’t catch on quick, but they should have enough time and thorough instruction to deeply absorb and retain.
Though sometimes the most formidable challenge in teaching, teachers should help students see beyond the classroom. Too often is the drive for learning sparked solely by grades and meeting curriculum prerequisites. While these are fine and quite necessary, they mostly matter only within the confines of education. Assuming that the majority of students’ lives will be spent beyond their education, colleges—and more specifically individual classes—should serve as transitionary chapters into the “real world,” not a completely separate book.
These tactics could be applied to a variety of disciplines, but I approach them from a mass communications perspective. It’s what I know best and thus feel most comfortable teaching. Coming before a class with confidence in subject matter is essential in providing quality instruction; simply quoting a textbook without professional anecdotes does students no more good than if they had read the textbook themselves.
Through a mass communications perspective is also how I gauge how successful I am as a teacher. I look at how much students progress in effectively communicating to the masses—through writing, through photography, through page design, through videography, through Web design, through social media, etc. For introductory courses, it’s about getting a foot in the door and securing the first internship. For intermediate to advanced courses, it’s about improving the quality of media products and landing prestigious internships and jobs.
I believe to get students where teachers want them to be—and where they themselves want to be—teachers have to work harder than their students. This is where some of the more specific areas of my teaching philosophy come into play.
Before class, much attention should be put into planning. This means keeping tabs of all the frequent errors of past semesters and offering forewarning to current students. It means staying on top of best practices, industry standard software, ethical dilemmas, industry news, etc. It means figuring out the best way to articulate these in the limited in-class time so that students truly grasp, understand and know what’s expected of them in and out of the classroom.
During class, a teacher should be active and willing to help. While important in lecture and seminar courses, this is most essential in classes that are project-heavy. Teachers should constantly be circling the room, offering expert help in a way that guides but doesn’t do the work for the students. Being able to provide proper assistance is only possible if teachers have familiarized and refreshed themselves beforehand with all the intricacies that the students will go through.
After class, a teacher should be willing to help with anything related to the course, step by step, during set office hours or individual appointments. He or she should also be assisting in matters like getting published, perfecting an internship application and writing letters of recommendation. Email should be utilized to help the class as a whole stay on the same page and, occasionally, to alert students of opportunities.
More generally, what all this boils down to is effort and attention to detail, from both the students and the teacher. Rewarding those who obey these simple rules with an A, and making sure you as the teacher clearly define the path that leads to that reward. Effort and attention to detail are, of course, the cornerstones of most success stories in all aspects of life. But just because they might seem cliché doesn’t mean they aren’t applicable. And nowhere are they more relevant and more important than building the minds of the next generation of professional mass communicators.