What makes a great professor?

Haven’t written a blog post for an entire month…I attribute this to being stricken with WRITERS BLOCK. Seriously. Having written this blog for nearly four years, I’m running out of ideas.  What do you want to read about? What are you dying to hear from me that I simply haven’t addressed? Please Please PLEASE write in the comments and I promise to cover topics that you suggest. I hope that the quality and length of my posts can temporarily make up for their infrequency!

Its the end of my LAST Fall semester, and I’ve been going through a lot of LASTS of everything.  Something on my mind is how my professors have influenced my Cornell experience. Here I will outline what differentiates an OK or “aight” professor from a GREAT prof.

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In four years you go through a lot of professors. Some good, some great, some who bring food to class to motivate students to come, and some who are so frightening they scare students into coming to class. Any current professors reading this? Take notes and maybe your results on ratemyprofessors.com will get a little boost.

1. They learn students’ names (or care about students in general)

True Story: had a professor once for a 10 person class. This class met 3 times/week for a full semester. Only 10 students….and my professor still did not know our names by the end of the semester.  I won’t name names but I certainly felt the disconnect between us and even felt a little disrespected.

A professor can show they care by learning their students names and in other ways too.  Be approachable! At least pretend to be enthusiastic rather than annoyed when a student asks to meet with you outside of class. What’s the point in teaching students for a living if you don’t even care to get to know us?

2. They have candy bowls in their office

Kidding. Kinda.

3. They don’t teach you what to learn

While I love memorizing mundane facts and regurgitating them in 2 hour examinations and forgetting them as soon as I leave the exam…..I don’t.  Memorizing& regurgitating information may be a type of learning but its only helpful in the short term. To be honest, in 5 years I probably won’t remember most of the things I’ve learned at Cornell. Do I even remember things I learned during my freshman year? Not exactly.

Example: Last year I took the famed Intro to Wines course here at Cornell.  We had to learn specific things like the differences in labeling between Washington and Oregon, names and climates of the wines produced in the Loire valley, the flavor profiles of a Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. I can say with confidence that I do not remember any of these facts. While I wish I had better memory, many of my peers have forgotten this information too.

Yes, some things are important to commit to memory. If I plan on becoming a sommelier  I better remember everything I learned in Intro to Wines.  If I’m working for a winery, there are a lot of things I should commit to memory about the wine production, labeling, etc.  If I’m working for Marriott there are things I should commit to memory about the hotel industry to prepare for a successful career. However, in other areas without relevance to my career path, if I can google the lecture material, why is Cornell charging $47,286 for it? This leads me to my next point.

4. They teach you how to learn

My adviser and professor, Howard Chong makes it clear almost every day that he focuses on teaching us how learn.  In his class, Sustainable Business & Economics, we began the semester by learning key terms and topics important for understanding the subject material.

Rather than memorizing information for the rest of the semester, he bases the rest of the class on critical thinking similar to (what I would imagine) would be relevant in the workplace.  For example:

We’ve been working on a big project the entire semester. That’s right…one project for the entire semester.  Each student chooses a company and looks at an issue that company faces. Then we propose a solution to that issue that is related to sustainability.

Throughout the semester we use critical thinking and discussion with peers to strengthen our arguments.  We’ve gone through several iterations of the same project, continually tweaking and changing our concepts in order to finish up with a beautifully polished presentation.

In the workplace, I won’t necessarily be required to memorize facts and be asked to recite them.  But I may be asked to solve a problem- and use these facts and critical thinking to come up with an effective solution.  In class, Professor Chong admits that some of us may not even remember having him as a professor, but we may use the skills from his class without even realizing it.