Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What It Takes To Be Great – Part II

I did a little experiment over the last two weeks and, to tell you the truth, I was a bit surprised by what I discovered. I asked my students in Intermediate Accounting II (virtually all are second semester juniors) to identify the very best teacher they have had since they entered college. For most students, their teachers provide them with the best examples of leadership. I really wanted my students to consider the attributes that it takes for a person to be a successful leader. Most of them will graduate from college and, within a year or two, they will be in a position where other workers must report to them. Often, the upward trajectory of their careers is not based on their knowledge of accounting but rather on their ability to guide and lead the people who form the members of their team. A teacher is not exactly a team leader but the characteristics for success would seem to be somewhat similar.

My students were asked to identify their very best (“best” not “favorite”) college teacher and then write a short paragraph justifying this selection. In a follow up assignment, I asked each student to boil down the characteristics of this person into just three words. I wanted to see what I could discover (and what they could discover) about being the best by looking at these descriptions.

What I fully expected to receive was what I call the 2 C’s and 3 E’s of teaching: Caring, Challenging, Engaging, Energetic, and Enthusiastic. I have always said that a teacher can go far by simply focusing on these 2 C’s and 3 E’s.

What I got was a much wider variety of responses than I had expected (some of which I didn’t even understand). So, I had to figure out how to create an organizational pattern for the information that I had gathered. I finally decided that I could take each word that I was given and assign it to one of three classifications:

Teacher’s connection to students
Teacher’s personal attributes
Teacher’s method of instruction

Okay, some of the descriptive terms could fit into more than one category but I chose to use my best judgment and force them all into one category or another. Below you will find what I learned from my students. If you want to become a better teacher (on the road to becoming a great teacher), pick out a few of these terms and work to get a bit better. As a good friend of mine recently told me, it is really hard to know how to become a better teacher – it is such a nebulous goal. However, perhaps becoming a bit more enthusiastic will help or maybe a bit more helpful. Don’t attack the goal, attack the attributes.

Or, possibly a more efficient approach would be to take this list and grade yourself: “For each of these characteristics, what grade would my students give me?”

After that, ask yourself which grades bother you the most? There are undoubtedly some areas where you won’t be pleased with your own grade. Then, as you might with one of your students, ask yourself: “What could I do to get that grade up?” Merely, by identifying the attributes where you don’t like your grade, you are taking the first steps to becoming a better teacher.

The number in parenthesis indicates a term that was mentioned by more than one student to describe their best teachers. Remember, I created the categories myself after looking at the overall list of characteristics as a method of organization.

Teacher’s connection to students
--Caring (6)
--Engaging (5)
--Helpful (5)
--Approachable (2)
--Fair (2)
--Inspirational (2)
--Motivational (2)

Teacher’s personal attributes
--Personable (4)
--Intelligent/smart (4)
--Knowledgeable (3)
--Down-to-earth (2)
--Energetic (2)
--Enthusiastic (2)

Teacher’s method of instruction
--Interesting (3)
--Entertaining (2)
--Humorous (2)
--Passionate (2)

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