A lot of people think you go to college to get a higher-paying job, but that’s never going to work if you don’t learn something. It’s a professor’s job to make sure you learn the material that will get you started in your professional life, and if you’ve got any college experience under your belt, you know that some professors are better than others. What you look for in a college professor can depend on what kind of student you are and how you learn best. But there are some qualities that every professor should have. If you’re looking into taking a class from a particular teacher, these are the areas you should watch for.
If you’re taking a class that is easily applicable to real life, especially in the career you want to pursue after college, you want to take it from a professor who has actually worked in that field. The old adage of “those who can’t do, teach” might have felt true in high school, but on a college level, you should expect your teachers to have a relevant professional background on top of the general knowledge. They should be able to tell you what your future career will really be like.
2. Communication Skills
Older, tenured professors might have decades of experience teaching a particular subject, but they also might be more accustomed to publishing papers than communicating their ideas to students. Nearly all professors spend some of their time in academic research – in fact, 30 percent of all postsecondary teachers only teach part-time. But they should view teaching as their priority. The intelligence of a professor is useless if they can’t lecture clearly, in a way where you can understand the main idea and be able to absorb the material. If you have trouble with a class, it’s not always completely your fault – sometimes you’re not being taught effectively.
Never underestimate the value of a professor who is actually a nice person. It’s important to feel like you can talk to your professor without being intimidated, and it’s important that they provide ways for you to do that. You should feel comfortable emailing them or showing up during their office hours. They should be willing to discuss your grades with you and elaborate on what is needed from you in class. And they should always be open to any questions you have. This is especially true if you’re one of the nearly 7 million students who enrolls in online courses every year. If you’re not face-to-face with your professor, being able to communicate with them is even more important.
It’s common to wind up with a professor who plays favorites, and it’s a totally uncomfortable feeling for the other students. If your class is heavy on discussion, you want to get your chance to shine, not constantly be listening to the opinions of the same three people. Also, you should feel like the grading process is fair, and that a professor’s bias isn’t influencing how they read your paper. A good professor should be open to different viewpoints and encourage you to see things your own way.
Perhaps the most important quality of all is a professor who loves what they teach. They should be passionate about their subject, and it should be a central part of their lives, even if it’s not a central part of yours. A professor should never make you feel like teaching your class is a chore. You want a teacher who can inspire you to love a subject you never knew you could enjoy, instead of one who turns you off of a subject you once enjoyed. And they can only do that if they’re excited about every class – something no student should ever take for granted.
Good professors can come in every shape and size, and from every background. Whether they graduated from a prestigious Ivy League school or got their online masters of education, they just have that spark for teaching that can’t be manufactured. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into a few different teachers in your college careers that really influence and inspire you. But the most important thing is that you learn from people who can make the time and money you invest in college worth it.
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