Student Instruction & Great Instructors

When it comes to learning, I think that the best way to get things into any person’s brain is to have them teach it. I have been following this philosophy for about 6 years now and have not had it fail me once. People, without fail, are forced to examine underlying areas of topics that would go without notice if they were to be simply handed the knowledge and forced to move on, as with most assembly line teaching.

As a student teacher it should be a high priority to not only understand it, but to be able to explain it clearly to a group of people that may or may not understand it already. Its important to have a mix of both because correcting teachers is something that you will need to become accustomed to. I prefer to be involved in teachers lesson plans and the way they teach tends to rub off on me. I have worked along side quite a few instructors as I have been learning and it has caused me to question many things I see in other instructors. Having the experience of standing up in front of 30 some odd people, of varied intellects and wills, is difficult, but it is a necessity for our culture to be able to teach masses of people to learn a lot of information in a short period of time. Slowly but surely algebra is being taught to lower grades and more important higher level classes are becoming available. We all have to work together to really be able to wrap our minds around our chosen professions, whatever they may be.

What does it take to be a great teacher?
This question is nebulous. Everyone seems to have their own opinion, and if you take a moment to take a gander at sites like RateMyProfessor.com you will see that they vary a wide range. I suppose my specifications and requirements of instructors is a little above average, but it just goes to show you where some peoples minds are.

Are great instructors easy to get A’s from?
Absolutely not. In this day and age, a possible recession incoming and all, it is increasingly more important to be well versed and ready to work. The fact of the matter is that school impacts your life in more ways than just handing you grades. The way I look at things if your teacher hands out more than 30% A’s than there is a slim chance that they are pushing or critiquing you well enough. For a long time I was unsatisfied if I didn’t have a B. The class is either too easy or I took a step that I was not ready for. For instructors who choose to just drop A Bombs on their class and pass people, true assembly line teaching, I pity you because you had a chance to help mold a mind and prepare that person for more than their next class. They could have been great if you had just been fair in your grading scheme.

A great teacher prepares you for your next class. A great teacher can provide you with the necessary information that will allow you to not only pass their class (and often not…) but also to allow you to be ready for the following course. A part of this is related to the pupils will to learn the topics, but instructors are actually more important to the topic.

A great instructor is great at the topic they are teaching. There aren’t going to be many math professors that went through their life not studying math, and there shouldn’t be. An education is a very important part of life, in that it provides you with more than just algorithms and formulas, but it provides you with reasoning. Answers to the questions that we all ponder at night in early algebra: Why do we need this? What is it going to do for me in my life? Why do we need to do things in this way? A great instructor will provide you with an understanding of how things work in real life as well as a better than average understanding of why. Answering the 6 super questions from which all things are derived is their purpose in life: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How.

Great instructors are those who see that a student is capable of much more and not only do they notice it… they reach into that student and help bring their capability to light. Great instructors are able to make students realize that they are capable of not only understanding their topic but of knowing it.

Have a bad teacher and not quite sure what you can do to get yourself on track?
The fact that you are already realizing they suck at teaching is definitely a good sign, but the truth is that you will have many more just like the one you currently have. You cannot rely on RateMyProfessor for anything and you surely cant just hope. I suggest you have a word with an instructor at your school that is great already and ask them to provide you with direction. If you haven’t seen any notable instructors, look for students of your caliber and above and find out what classes they are taking. Good signs are things like high initial enrollment at early hours that become dwindling numbers as the course continues on, although the low enrollment is often a sign of something far worse – a Terrible teacher.

  • Throughout my time in university, I have known two professors that actually had my respect. Dr. Martin is a math teacher at my university. He had us doing crazy math problems heavily involving modular arithmetic. One project was to write an RSA encryption algorithm (from scratch). Another was taken from a Google job ad. It was something like ‘Find the First 10-Digit Prime Number in Consecutive Decimals of Pi’.com.

    The guy not only came up with creative projects, but they pushed the bounds of our intelligence. He specifically noted one day,
    ‘I understand that this is your hardest class, but I intentionally make it hard so you get smarter, because if you push yourself beyond what you think you can’t do, you *will* get smarter.’

    I got a B+ in this class versus the C’s and D’s I got in all my other classes. Go figure.

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