My writer from St. Louis asked three questions: 1. Why the move from seminary to undergrad? 2. What do you like most about undergrad teaching? 3. What type of person would you say would make the best undergrad prof? Yesterday we dipped into the first one — and today I’d like to focus on the 3rd since the 2d, as it turns out, got answered some yesterday.
College professors, at least the best ones I know, have two major characteristics:
First, they love their discipline. They don’t just “do their discipline” — that is, do well in college and grad school and then go on for a PhD and then work hard to get a job and tenure and then fade away into long summer vacations and generous Christmas breaks. What they study brings them joy and motivates them and excites them.
They read; they know the latest; they attend sessions; they love to talk about their discipline and they do so with anyone who will listen. Sure, they can hold back — chemistry profs don’t have to bring up the elements of life in a sandwich — but they do like to talk about it. Take, for instance, my colleague Kurt Peterson — he loves church history, especially American church history. When I asked him recently about Mark Noll’s The Rise of Evangelicalism, he downloaded insights and perspective on the book.
A good college professor is professional.
Second, they love their students. I once said the difference between seminary teaching and college teaching was that in seminary we teach our subject but in college we teach students. I don’t think this says it all, and I do think it can mask a false dichotomy, but it was my experience. Sometimes I think it wouldn’t matter one bit what I was asked to teach at the college level, because I’d have to figure out where the students where and who they were and then just get into the mix with a subject and start moving onward. I’d never think of teaching Chronicles to seminary students; it requires specialization.
Some profs love quietly; some take trips with students and seem to make them friends. Learning the names of students is the first thing to learn about a student.
After these two — and they are the grounding necessities for a good college professor — I’d list a few other traits of a good professor in the classroom, and I welcome any thoughts you have about any of this:
1. Enthusiastic: you can either bore students or enthuse them.
2. Prepared: be ready.
4. Flexible again — after all, we are dealing with college students.
5. Interactive — the best class sessions I’ve taught were sparked by a good question — and somedays are better than others.
6. Growing — read books and attend sessions on teaching. I subscribed for 3-4 years to The College Professor just to learn what was going on. And I try to read a book every Christmas about teaching.
7. Relevant — I don’t mean you have grow a soul patch at 50 or dress like a 20-yr-old, but knowing what is going on at that age is of great value.
I could go on … your turn.