17 ways to be a kick-ass professor

There’s this great moment at the end of each semester for course evaluations. Students get to freely voice their opinions of each class, and each professor (it’s anonymous). I’m uncertain as to the actual impact these answers create, but it’s nice to applaud a great professor (or in some cases, not).

After taking 40 courses in the last 6 years, I’ve made some keen observations regarding professors and their MO’s. With graduation behind me, I feel like it’s safe to make some non-anonymous comments (although I haven’t technically received the diploma yet!?)

For any would-be professors (or current ones brave enough to read), here are the points that stand out.

SO RUDE. See #4.
See #16.
See #1.
So true. See #9.

A Kick-Ass Professor Must:

  1. Possess a passion for teaching. Leave your ego at home, and remember you’re in the classroom to teach (if that is not your reason, please do something else). Being a genius in your field may be impressive, but not always helpful.
  2. Check your own work first. Review your material each semester, don’t just copy it and change the due dates. Keep it fresh and relevant. Are you clinging to an outdated text book? Are you using long-gone technology? The syllabus you wrote 12 years ago could use a refresh. Students need to be on their game, and the same goes for you.
  3. Post the syllabus on time. It’s important to start off on the right foot, and respect is a two-way street. Students appreciate knowing what is expected. We’ve got one very short week before we commit our time, energy and money to your course.
  4. Communicate! Answer emails in a timely fashion. Give solid instructions and a clear rubric for big projects. No need to leave us guessing. Not even your best student can hit an undefined target.
  5. Let go of the busy work. Students are often juggling work and family responsibilities. Having a ton of small assignments is just plain unnecessary and even more, it’s annoying. College students are not third graders. Why create more work? Just don’t.
  6. Give reasonable due dates. Post assignments well ahead of time, especially when it’s an online class. It’s unreasonable to put tight schedule demands on adults. Posting an assignment on Monday with a due date of Wednesday sets students up for frustration, and maybe even failure. Jobs will likely provide this insanity soon enough, if they don’t already. We don’t need to practice dealing with stress.
  7. Make it fun! On the first day (or night) of class, plan an activity that allows everyone to connect with each other. One of the best things about college is meeting others. You can help this process and make your classroom way less awkward.
  8. Be happy to be there. Obviously we all have days where we’d rather be lounging on the beach (no? just me?). The energy you bring to the class makes all the difference. No one really wants to be anywhere for three hours in the evening, I promise. If you’re only there for the paycheck, please teach online classes only.
  9. Pass on the Group Projects. These should be assigned only under the following circumstances: a) you allow time in class for the group to work together, b) there is a reason for the project to be done in a group (teaching us how to work together is not reason enough), and c) you allow the group to grade their fellow members as a portion of the grade. The only students who like group projects are the slackers and the control freaks, so skip it if you can.
  10. Award cash and prizes. I’m not kidding. Some of my favorite professors were known to throw out a $20 or a bag of candy for some friendly competition. Yes, we’re adults, but a little incentive goes a long way. *Disclaimer: we only swore not to tell the professor’s wife about the $20. I never promised not to blog about it.
  11. Use the text book – if you require the textbook. Enough spent and said.
  12. Give me a break. Allow a short break at least every hour. I will get up and walk out if I have to use the bathroom or get a drink. We all should not be sitting for hours on end (remember, you are probably standing, it’s much more tiring to sit).
  13. Bring in experts. One of the best experiences you can provide is the connection to the “real world”. If you’ve got a dynamic connection in your field, bring them in as a guest lecturer. They may not have “professor credentials”, but can provide valuable insight to students.
  14. Let us out early. If class is scheduled until 8:45pm, the latest you should EVER go is 8:30pm. Start on time, but finish early for the win.
  15. Don’t be a jerk about grades. Drop the lowest quiz score. Offer extra credit bonuses. Grade on a curve. Round up! That score of 89.5 is its own kind of awful. We all have rough seasons, and life doesn’t care about the rubric. Students are people trying to improve themselves. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
  16. Grade homework, papers, posts and quizzes as soon as possible. Better yet, make it multiple choice and it will grade itself. We work hard and like to know how we’re doing. Keeping it all a mystery doesn’t help anyone.
  17. Show genuine interest in your students. Be accessible if we need you. Give out your cell. Have coffee together. If you want to make a positive impact (along with your decent wage), then open up. Sharing your time and energy only enhances the wisdom you share. And keeps your ratings high, your feedback positive, and your job secure (hopefully!).

So there’s my list. Fortunately, I enjoyed several such professors who possessed many of these very traits. When you boil it down, it’s simply being passionate about the work. Students may be younger and less educated, but we know it when someone cares.

Maybe I’ll offer a practical “how-to” course in the Doctoral program for those wanting to become professors. I can get paid for that, right?

Thanks for reading, until next time,

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