In my last two posts I talked about some struggles I've faced in my quest to be a better instructor. Well, before you think I’m a bumbling fool in the classroom, let me share some things I do that work well and help me connect with the students.
If I described my teaching approach in one statement it would be: show them you care. I do this in four ways. First, on the first day of class I make it clear to my students that I am committed to their learning. While I certainly have expectations of my students, I let them know that they should also have expectations of me. These include being clear about my expectations for each assignment to ensure grading transparency, providing detailed feedback on rough drafts and responding to emails in a timely manner. As the semester continues, I make sure to follow through on these commitments. I regularly meet with students outside of office hours. I spend hours reading drafts and providing constructive feedback.
The second way I show them that I care is by treating them like adults. I don’t take attendance as I don’t want to force someone to be in class. If a student misses class often, it is highly unlikely that they will get a good grade anyway. Rather, I make the class interactive and grade participation. I want them to be there by choice, not by force. I tell the students that learning to speak in a large meeting setting is an important skill. If you don’t speak, then others not know if you are smart or stupid. And if the firm ever had to lay people off, the people whose contributions to the firm are unclear are likely to be the first ones to go.
Thirdly, I strive to present class material in an interesting and engaging manner. I use a variety of tactics: hands-on exercises, cases, movies, lectures, etc. I rarely lecture for an entire class session. Rather, I try to make each session interactive to keep students engaged.
And the last way I reinforce that I care is by listening and incorporating student feedback. I frequently ask for their candid feedback about the course, both informally and via an anonymous mid-course evaluation. After they fill out this evaluation, we have a discussion of what were the things they liked and did not like about the course, and what changes we can make going forward.
Students have told me that they appreciate my approach. I've been told more than once that I’m one of the best professors on campus. At graduation, students have gone out of their way and kept their loved ones waiting to come up to me to say thank you and give me a hug. I get emails from graduated students on a regular basis asking to meet with me to discuss their careers and business ideas.
I share this not to brag, but simply as evidence that what I’m doing seems to work. Or at least, it mostly works. My previous two entries make it clear that I am still learning and growing as I strive to be an effective “CEO of my classroom.” I don’t expect the learning to ever end as that’s what makes my job so interesting and wonderful – every semester is different and presents new challenges on how to help my students learn and thrive.