Let me begin with an admission: Although I have been teaching for about 30 years, and am on the CTE’s Advisory Board, I have never taken a course on how to teach. Yes, I’ve read a few books on the topic, but most of what I’ve learned is through my own mistakes and observing others. So if I use the wrong terminology, forgive me.
In my role as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Psychology Department, I frequently have the opportunity to observe faculty and graduate students in the classroom. Invariably, I come away impressed. The instructors are knowledgeable, good communicators, and clearly committed to doing a good job.
That job, in some ways, has gotten more difficult in the past decade or so, particularly for those teaching large, required classes. Instructors are competing with the enticement of cell phones and laptops. Students also seem to have shorter attention spans than previous cohorts.
That brings me to what I consider to be a central characteristic of effective instructors: a strong classroom presence. Better instructors command attention and connect to the students. They do this in various ways. Some teachers are natural entertainers, and come to class equipped with a variety of jokes. Others frequently recount rivoting personal experiences. Certain instructors are virtual actors on stage and use body language, modulating cadence, and other techniques to maintain attention. My favorites are those who are so passionate about the subject matter that it is infectious. Maybe the best instructors do a bit of all of that.
When I started teaching, I’m afraid I used none of those techniques. I was too nervous and instead devoted all my energy and attention to trying to get across as much content as possible. Now, I realize that if students aren’t listening, my most brilliant insights will be lost on deaf ears.
So my advice to instructors is this: Develop your own style of classroom presence. But whatever that may be, be sure to connect to students and command attention.