Ah the first few weeks of school: that magical time when most people actually attend class, and the walkways are clogged with freshmen trying to find the same lecture hall they will be in for the next four years. The beginning of school also brings with it another peculiarity: the early-leaving student. The brave soul who boldly stands and leaves within the first 20 minutes of the first meeting of a class, having made the snap decision that his or her time is better spent in other ways, or perhaps in other classes. Watching these people pack up their things and walk out of a packed room, heads held high, made me wonder, “What is it that affects you so greatly that you can decide in the space of a few minutes whether a class is worth spending the rest of your semester in?” The answer is, of course, the one thing that separates one lecture hall from another: the teacher.
Teachers, like all people, come in many varieties. There are good teachers and bad teachers; occasionally you might even find a great teacher, one who changes your outlook on not only academics but life. But what qualities do those great teachers possess that the others do not? In an attempt to answer that question, I wrote down a list of all the great and horrible teachers I have ever had. The following is the conclusion I reached.
You would think that the most important characteristic of a great teacher would be something along the lines of “passion,” that driving force that makes a teacher exciting to be around. However, while pondering my list of teachers, I found that organization, not passion, is the best indicator of whether a teacher will be a success or a dud. A great teacher conveys large amounts of complex information to his or her students in a highly structured manner, which eliminates irrelevant information.
The best courses are those that constantly give you an idea of how your learning today fits into what you need to know for tomorrow.
Now, the presence of such a highly organized lesson plan or well-presented lecture is never something you see on the first day of school, but it is easy to tell if a teacher is organized in other ways. To highlight just a few of those ways, ask yourself if these situations seem familiar. A teacher that has prepared a PowerPoint for a room without a projector, or perhaps more commonly, simply has no idea how to work the technology in the first place. Or the teacher that tells you all about the syllabus, but without ever handing it out or visually presenting it to the class. And finally, my favorite: the soft-spoken professor who tries to lecture in Hodson 110 without a microphone. When students see these things on the first day of class, it makes an impression. After all, you know that they are going to have high expectations, and the material is likely difficult. The last thing anyone wants to deal with is a disorganized class that makes learning this challenging material more difficult.
So this year as you attend your first few class meetings, pay attention to the professors. Are they organized and energetic? Or do they give you feeling that a class is going to be a train wreck? If it is the latter, I encourage you to pack your bags and find another course; there are plenty of good ones out there.