“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the young mind.”

Anatole France, Nobel Prize for Literature , 1921

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Drawing from my experience and long association with the academia and students at B Schools I am writing this article as a small attempt to review and share with you some of the basics in B School teaching. I have learnt these skills over the years, primarily, to keep myself strengthened and on top of good teaching practices. This is but only a review or refresher of some of the basics we all know and use in our classrooms.

Different institutions implement various teaching practices depending upon their students and their circumstances. What follows are some reminders or descriptions of different approaches we are all familiar with and have utilized. Sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day activities and lose sight of the various approaches we could be implementing. We address the teacher’s how, not the subject-matter what, of good practice in education. We recognize that content and pedagogy interact in complex ways. We are also aware that there is much healthy ferment within and among the disciplines. What is taught, after all, is at least as important as how it is taught. But, in contrast to the long history of research in teaching and learning, there is little research on the college curriculum.

We cannot, therefore, make responsible recommendations about the content of good education in business courses. That work is yet to be done but we can safely say that an education should aim to prepare students to understand and deal intelligently with modern life. What better place to start but in the classroom and on our campuses? What better time than now?

Most professors want to improve their teaching performance. Some look toward their teaching evaluations for hints or suggestions on ways to improve. One problem with this method is often student comments are focused on general statements like “the tests   are   too hard” or “the professor isn’t very interesting.” Certainly, professors can learn from their own mistakes, or conversely, from their own triumphs. However, in my experience, professors learn from the ‘standout teachers’ in our profession—the students.

In my pursuit to learn and improve I have many a times asked my students to think about the best and worst professors they have ever had and tell me what made their teaching styles so memorable. Based on my discussions and experience with hundreds of B School students over the years, I am pleased to share with you some simple ways by which teachers can improve their performance in the classroom. See how you score, as a teacher, on the following:

Be available

This suggestion goes beyond holding office hours. It means we as teachers need to be more approachable. One student commented that just seeing a teacher talking to students in the hallway, not necessarily about class, gives a great impression. Some students pointed out that too often professors seem to “rush” out of class, folding up notes and books as they head for the door. Students interpret this as the professor’s lack of time or desire for students’ questions and interactions. Suggestions included requiring students to come by for just three minutes to meet the professor. Students agreed this would make a very positive impression and contrary to our thoughts, would not be seen as an inconvenience by most students.

Nowadays, many of the students’ academic issues and day to day problems can be solved by emails but here, again, the professors should respond to the students’ queries as soon as possible otherwise it would only leave a negative impression in the minds of students.

For student motivation and involvement, it is recommended that we have frequent contact with our students in and out of the classroom or electronically via emails. Students appreciate knowing that faculty members care and are willing to help them when they hit tough times. This relationship with faculty encourages intellectual commitment and values.

Collaborate and use current examples

Another easy one, but it seems that even the best teachers tend to fall back on comfortable examples they have used over time. The point is, even last year’s examples are not current. This reflects on your perceived knowledge, class preparation, and your interest level for the class and students.

Many students are enthusiastic when the activities they are involved with are team efforts rather than doing things individually. Learning is enhanced, collaborative, social and not competitive and isolated when working with other students. Sharing ideas and response to criticisms and reactions is truly a learning experience.

Keep the class interactive  

The Socratic method of students only listening to lectures is not as effective as the student being involved in the process. Learning is not a spectator sport. Personally, I find it difficult to learn listening, memorizing packaged assignments, and regurgitating answers, without being actively involved. It is my view that students and teachers, both, must discuss their experiences, and daily lives.

Students prefer discussions and interaction with the professor even in large classes. While each practice can stand alone on its own, when all students are present and involved, the teaching and learning effects multiply. Even though we are business professors, we do not know everything about business and, of course, we do not know everything about different or innovative business ideas and techniques in every kind of business setting. If we recognize this fact, we can learn many details from our students.

Everyone is different and have different talents. Students learn in many different ways and styles. As teachers we must identify the cultural and diverse needs of students so as to facilitate their learning experience.

Test what you teach

Several students complained about the teachers who ask questions over material never covered in the classroom or in the textbook. They are not asking for the same information or examples, but at least the opportunity to use the same logic or approach to answering questions. Make sure you cover only what you Sometimes we keep the same questions used on previous exams and consequently, we may not have covered or emphasized that material for that specific class.

Students too need feedback on their performance. The challenge is in assessing existing knowledge and competence. Knowing what I don’t know has been advantage for me when I admit that I don’t know. There are however, many opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement.

Remember and use students’ names  

Students like to be called by their names and believe this helps them ‘connect personally’ with the professor. They acknowledge that in classes with more than 30 students, it is not easy or expected but they appreciate when professors do take the time to learn their names. There is something good to be said about personalization.

Treat Students like they are your customers

Ask students what they would like to spend more time covering. If you see a student scoring poorly on an exam, ask if there is something you can do to help. Set the bar low and we get low performance, set the bar high we get high performance. High expectations results in positive self-fulfilling positive expectations.

Be enthusiastic and proactive

If you look bored or sound bored, you are. Enough said. Your lack of enthusiasm should not be evidently visible to the students as this can bring in comments from students, like “We just want to know you care, after all, we are paying part of your salary.”

Use humor in examples

Students respond well to humor. But remember, humor is relative. You want them to laugh with you, not at you. Also, do not make fun of students in the class. While sometimes very tempting, more often than not, it is viewed by students as an, “I’m smarter than you” tactic whereby you are perceived as a “jerk.” In addition, if you use humor in class, make sure it’s relevant to the topic or point you are making.

Smile

Smile, it is an integral part of any culture with universal meaning that is easy, free, and requires no additional time or effort. Try this and you will have many students admiring you for your ‘interpersonal’ skills.

The suggestions I have made here have worked wonders for me and I hope would also be helpful to any teacher who is committed to excellence in teaching skills and performance. Please share your experiences and suggestions and I would be happy to add them to the above in solidarity and our common objective of professional development.

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