Thefeelgoodfactor's Blog

Random thoughts

Who is a good professor?

on September 28, 2011

I have been thinking a lot about this topic off late due to various reasons. The key issues are what is the primary role of a professor? And in a class consisting of students with different intellectual capabilities (or to be more politically and socially correct, students having different utilities), which section of the class should the prof target?

My idea of a good teacher/professor has always been someone who can create interest in a particular field. If the professor succeeds in creating interest, students will learn the stuffs themselves. ( I am of course talking about  profs in UG and PG colleges, this by the way would be applicable to high school teachers as well). To extend this point laterally, I believe that professor should spend great deal of time in ensuring that the basic concepts are understood well(advanced topics can be done by the students themselves) rather than trying to cover many topics without building strong basics.

The second question, I believe, is more difficult to answer. Recently, I and my batch mate had to take a crasher for some subject. In order to prepare for the crasher (and hide that we dont remember many stuffs from first year), we floated a spreadsheet asking them to fill the topics that should be covered by us. We also asked them what exactly should be covered in the crasher in those topics: the theory or applications. Half the respondents wanted us to cover theory and the other half wanted applications to be discussed. The same scenario holds good in most of the subjects, there would be 10% of the batch who would know a lot about the topic, the next 30% would have some idea and then there would be others who would be wondering if such a topic existed. The professors’ job becomes extremely difficult as he has to balance the needs of the majority of the students. ( Having elective courses definitely helps in reducing ( not necessarily eliminating) this conflict, but then in a country where most of the institutes have >50% courses as compulsory, this is definitely a problem).

One unfortunate trend I have observed is that students seem to define a prof as good or bad based on the leniency in awarding grades/marks. I have never understood this causality, these are two separate events and should not be mixed. For instance, I have never understood how a prof who free rides but gives  7/10 as min grade be better than someone who gives 4/10 as min grade but prepares a great deal before coming to each class and tries to ensure that every single student understands what he is telling. (Grades might be important but they should never come in the way of judging a prof).

This brings me to the last topic of this post. Recently, an alumnus  of my alma mater suggested in relevant FB group that we should honor couple of teachers who had a significant influence in our life ( the teachers were to be decided by a poll). One point of view that came up was that it is improper to facilitate only a couple of teachers and ignoring the rest. But then the other side of argument is that how do we signal to the so called good teachers that their efforts have played a huge role in shaping our thought process, and in turn differentiate them from others. ( This is especially required in government institutions where merit usually takes a back seat).

PS: The flow of ideas in this post might be abrupt as I haven’t spent time editing and proof-reading the post.

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