Some Suggestions for Professors Everywhere
Following is a list that should serve as a useful reminder for those teaching courses in higher education.
- Check your ego at the door. Earning an advanced degree and securing part- or full-time employment in Academia are respectable accomplishments, but your focus should be on teaching, not on questing after minor celebrity status. Unwarranted self-importance sends a deluded message.
- Protect academic freedom. Plato invented the Academy as a community of thinkers inspired by unfettered intellectual exploration. It’s your job to protect this invention. When you do, you stimulate advanced neurocognitive activity that engenders sophisticated problem-solving skills, creative inspiration, enhanced social awareness, and a vital understanding of the historical trends that continue to shape human culture. Failing to protect academic freedom spells the end of democracy.
- Respect your students. Some of them did multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and will be living with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives. Others have just been evicted from their homes and are only one more bad break away from living on the streets. Some are living on the streets. A few older non-traditional students are the first in their families to attempt college, and they’re terrified of you. The list is endless. At the very least, always be clear and fair with everyone in the classroom.
- Focus on smart pedagogical strategies, not transient administrative distractions and apple polishing. This means carefully evaluating the efficacy of tasks you might assume outside of teaching while examining your motives. Don’t do anything that hints of futility or craven self-interest. Life is too short for that. Moreover, if you’re not really interested in teaching anymore or think you have more to offer in administration, then at least do your job well in the classroom, and the right people will probably notice.
- Be creative in what you teach, but always do so with an eye to ensuring that your lectures and assignments speak clearly and sensibly to the course outcomes. Students should know what to expect in the class from Day 1. Readings and lectures should be coherently related to graded assignments. Grades should always be posted in a timely manner. If you fail to manage these tasks, then you’re not doing your job properly.
- Admit when you’re wrong, especially to your students, and make corrections as necessary. This process represents one of the first signs of intelligence. It demonstrates intellectual integrity and ensures accurate information sharing. Alternative behavior breeds confusion, distrust, and dishonesty.
- Avoid all forms of gossip and character assassination within the ranks. Commit yourself to never saying anything behind people’s backs that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their faces. Honorable behavior inspires a culture of integrity. This is something for which the Academy should be known.
- Acknowledge others for worthwhile accomplishments. Doing so will make you feel better about yourself, and your department will run more efficiently as a result of positive reinforcement. Like everyone else, students notice things like this, too. Many want to be able to respect your judgment because they see you as a personification of the institution to which they’ve devoted a great deal of time and money. In a way, you are an extension of their inextinguishable desire to forge a more appealing identity.
- Don’t let late-semester exhaustion and frustration turn you into a histrionic fatalist. Realize that your students are tired, too, and no one is performing at peak efficiency. At times like this, things seem worse than they really are. Just remember that everything will probably turn out fine.
- Don’t be a grading bully. Maintaining high standards is essential, but this just means challenging students intellectually and then evaluating their performance based on how closely they meet course outcomes. Along similar lines, don’t use attendance issues as a weapon to punish students. Your assignments, not your attendance policy, should be the real challenge.