Characteristics of a Good College Instructor

teaching mathematicsSome people seek college teaching jobs with no clear understanding of what it will take to succeed. This is the case for many new part-time, or adjunct, faculty members. An honest self-assessment can help a would-be instructor make the right decision, one that can lead to a rewarding part-time or full-time career teaching career. In some cases, however, the right decision will be to look for other employment.

Those Seeking a Higher Education Teaching Job Should Get to Know Themselves

One’s love for the subject matter coupled with a positive, if not glamorous, perception of college teaching jobs can mask an important issue. Does that person have what it takes to be a good college instructor? A would-be instructor should know before that before embarking on a teaching career.

There are many college jobs for adjunct instructors, and every teaching position has its requirements. Those requirements are typically defined in terms of education, knowledge, skills and experience. However, there are intangibles that go beyond a college’s qualifications to teach.

Advice for New College Instructors

In the 2003 book Practical Magic: On the Front Lines of Teaching Excellence, Roueche, Milliron & Roueche reported on the results of a study. Nearly 7,000 highly successful, award winning community college teachers were polled, and 1,670 responded. One of the questions was, “What advice would you give a beginning community college instructor?” It can be argued that their responses reflected the views of those teaching at four-year institutions.

The results were analyzed, and 14 themes (i.e. categories of advice) emerged. Of those 14 themes, several related closely to personal character traits.

The number one ranked piece of advice was to focus on the students. Instructors need to avoid distractions that might otherwise consume their time and energy. If instructors place a high value on students and their learning, this will come naturally. If they do not place high value on the success of their students, it will be difficult to maintain that focus.

The number two ranked piece of advice was to put forth the effort required to be an effective teacher. That means working hard, preparing well for each class, coming to class on time and making one’s self available to students. If an individual lacks self-discipline and a strong work ethic that effort may be hard to muster. In addition, if the individual dislikes any aspect of teaching, even the most disciplined and hard working instructor will be in for many unpleasant hours of class preparation.

The study illuminated two other categories of advice, ones related to personal fulfillment – “embrace teaching life” and “value the intrinsic rewards.” Spending evenings grading papers and writing exams should be something an instructor likes. And that individual should possess a service mentality for helping others improve their lives through learning. The best college instructors want to help others and they especially love it when a struggling student finally gets it. For them, that “aha moment” is a rewarding experience.

The Characteristics of an Effective College Instructor

This study did not specifically identify the characteristics of an effective college instructor, but it did provide some clues. Those who have been successful at their profession believe that success hinges on effort, enjoyment and intrinsic rewards.

The prospective college instructor would be wise to consider these factors.

Originally published August 14, 2010, on Suite101

Copyright Paul Hummel

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