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Radiologic Technology, Nov-Dec 1997 v69 n2 p167(3)
Reflections on what makes a good teacher. (Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year winners) Anne T. Rodgers; Deanna S. Cross; Barbara G. Tanenbaum; Elwin R. Tilson.

Abstract: College professors named Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation offer insights on the qualities of inspired teaching. Good teachers have desire, a positive attitude, and take risks. Keeping students off balance can discourage complacency and maintain interest. A good teacher knows what motivates each student, and works with the student as a partner in learning. A good teacher is also competent, creative and caring.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1997 American Society of Radiologic Technologists

The past few columns have focused on a number of new techniques that educators can use to improve classroom teaching. Simply using the latest techniques, however, does not assure excellent teaching or enhanced learning. A teacher who means well but does not understand the totality of the learning process can use all the new techniques in the world and still be mediocre. Excellence in teaching is not just good technique.

What, then, makes a good teacher? That's the question the Carnegie Foundation asks annually. Every year, the Carnegie Foundation identifies a few college professors who are considered the best in their disciplines. Each of these teachers is invited to compete for the Carnegie Professor of the Year Program and is asked to submit an essay on what constitutes good teaching. This year, 20 of the essays were compiled into i book titled Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak.[1] The essays are divided into four categories: teaching characteristics, teaching practices, teaching philosophies and teaching teachers. Two of the essays -- one by an English professor and the other by a professor of nursing -- have special meaning for radiologic science educators.

Qualities of Good Teachers

Peter Beidler is the Lucy G. Moses Professor of English at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. His essay, titled "What Makes a Good Teacher?" lists 10 qualities Beidler believes are vital to success in the teaching profession.

Most important, says Beidler, is the desire to be a good teacher -- one who succeeds in every aspect of teaching, just as teachers recognize students who really try to be good students, Students also recognize teachers who really want to be good teachers. "Faking it" usually doesn't work beyond the second day of class (even if we've all had those 8 a.m. classes on Fridays when we really had to fake it).

Second, good teachers take risks. One of the former professors at our institution was known to the students as "Dr. Yellownotes." This faculty member had been teaching from the same lecture notes for so many years that the paper on which they were written turned yellow and the notes had to be kept in plastic covers to keep them from disintegrating. Not surprisingly, Dr. Yellownotes was not respected by his students because he never took risks and never varied. At the other end of the spectrum, Beidler describes an experiment he tried one semester. He didn't assign a textbook for a writing class, instead asking the students to write their own textbook on writing. His students recognized the risk he was taking and worked hard to assure that both they and he succeeded.

A third quality of successful teachers is their positive attitude. Beidler believes that the teacher who falls into the trap of cynicism or victimization will never be positive about teaching. Good teachers meet all challenges with a positive attitude.

Fourth, good teachers never have enough time and never finish their work, but they don't complain about the long hours because they love what they do.

Fifth, good teachers think of teaching as a form of parenting. Beidler says that teachers use principles of good parenting in many situations, including caring about their Students' welfare, knowing when to be firm and when to give in, and apologizing when necessary. Good teachers, like good parents, know their students' problems, insecurities and potential.

Sixth, successful teachers give their students confidence. They realize that what the students learn is less important than the learning process itself. Learning instills confidence.

Seventh, a good teacher is able to keep his or her students off balance. Complacent students are bored students. Teachers encourage learning when they try new techniques and introduce risks.

Eighth, good teachers try to motivate students by working within their own incentive system. Teachers who know their students' likes, dislikes, problems and personal issues are more likely to be able to "push the right button" and motivate students to learn. Every cohort wave of students has its own characteristics and unique incentive system. The good teacher stays aware of trends and uses this information to modify motivational techniques. According to Beidler, good teachers "try to understand what makes students tick these days, and then they build on that knowledge to make them tock."

At first reading, the ninth and 10th qualities of good teaching seem to contradict each other. The ninth quality, according to Beidler, is "don't trust student evaluations of your teaching," but the 10th quality is "listen to your students."

Beidler makes an interesting distinction between the two. First, he notes that student evaluations can be deceiving. Good teachers tend not to believe the positive evaluations and agonize over the one or two mediocre ones, continually trying to improve their teaching. Mediocre teachers do the opposite -- they trust the good evaluations and brush off the negative ones. Beidler believes strongly that the best teachers are those who listen to what their students say about good teaching in general rather than about any one particular teacher. For example, in surveys, students almost universally state that the best teachers are those who are available, accessible, approachable and, most importantly, are excited about what they teach. A teacher who models his or her teaching style on the characteristics valued by students will be a successful educator.

The Four `Cs' of Good Teaching

Sally Phillips is a professor of nursing at the University of Colorado Health Science Center. Her essay included in Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak is titled "Opportunities and Responsibilities: Competence, Creativity, Collaboration, and Caring."

In her essay, Phillips questions why students continue to attend colleges and universities at a time when most books and journals are available online; interactive data files provide text, voice and images; and almost any information is available to anyone anytime through archived sources, newsgroups or e-mail. Her answer? Students continue to enroll in universities because of the teachers.

Faculty members serve as models, colleagues and mentors who guide students on a lifelong journey of growth and learning. To be effective guides on this journey, Phillips believes teachers must possess four specific characteristics:

* First, teachers must be competent. They must stay current not only in their chosen profession, the profession of teaching, but also in the subject matter they teach. If the competent teacher can be described as an "expert learner," then the students he or she teaches can be thought of as Junior learners." By staying active in an array of professional, legal, ethical, political and policy activities related to the subject being taught, students learn to be professionals in the broadest meaning of the term. Professionals are people who continue their involvement with the subject matter after the formal coursework ends. Competent teachers encourage active learning, because active projects beyond lecturing instill a passion in students to continue to be involved beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

* Second, good teachers must be creative. Phillips notes that the mass media have shortened the attention spans of most students, but also have made them creative users of technology. She suggests that it is not too much to ask for comparable qualities of excitement and creativity from teachers. For example, courses should never be taught the same way twice. Phillips is a strong advocate of reciprocal learning, a concept in which students take personal responsibility for their own learning. One way to help teachers and students move away from passive learning and toward reciprocal learning is by using case studies. In the radiologic sciences, case studies are excellent teaching tools that can range from film critique sessions to grand round presentations to clinical problem-solving sessions.

The creative teacher also encourages a breadth of thought. In a technical field such as health care, teachers should be interested in more than just what students know. They should be concerned about student beliefs, values and relationships. Phillips suggests bringing books, films and articles about health care into the classroom to help students think beyond the physical aspects of medicine and "examine the larger human dimensions."

* The third characteristic of successful teachers, according to Phillips, is their ability to collaborate with students and treat them as partners. Learners expect to be treated as adults. When they deal with clerks, bankers or coworkers, they expect a reciprocal relationship based upon respect. Why should they expect anything less from a teacher? Teachers and learners who enter into a partnership both benefit from the participatory learning environment. Collaborative techniques in the teaching environment include:

* The development of "learning contracts," which allow students to have a stake in the development and outcome of the course.

* Determining which teaching methods enhance or inhibit student learning.

* Brainstorming about evaluation methods.

* Establishing a mutual agreement on conduct and expectations for students and the teacher.

* Phillips' fourth "C" of good teaching is perhaps the most basic: A good teacher cares. Any human relationship -- whether husband and wife, worker and supervisor, patient and health care provider or teacher and student -- requires caring social interactions. If these interactions are nbt present, the students will try to create them. No matter how competent, creative or collaborative a teacher is, learning seldom occurs unless the teacher cares.

Part of caring is establishing and maintaining trust. For teachers, one way to build trust is by allowing students to get to know them. Teachers who share insights about themselves give their students an appreciation for their knowledge, expertise and experiences. "Opening up" in the classroom can be an effective way of letting students know that they are valued, respected and trusted by their teacher.

Another way to express caring and improve classroom interactions is to network within the professional community. Teachers can introduce students to other professionals, involve them in discussion groups and professional activities, and encourage them to network with each other and with practicing professionals. By bringing students into the professional milieu, a good teacher exhibits caring behavior and shows respect for his or her students.

Phillips concludes her essay by noting that until recently, students had to go through teachers and an institution of higher learning to access information. Today, computers have opened the information vaults to all, dramatically altering the role of the teacher. According to Phillips, the mission of today's teacher should be to "assist and guide students in their personal discovery of knowledge and synthesis of information." To do so, all teachers must practice the four "Cs" of good teaching.


Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak is full of insightful essays that will give any educator reason to pause and reflect upon their chosen profession. We highly recommend this book to all educators, not only as vocational reading but also as a reminder of what makes the teaching profession so worthwhile.


[1.] Roth J & ed. Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Boston, Mass: Anker Publishing Co; 1997.

This column is edited by faculty of the School of Health Professions, Armstrong Atlantic State University, a unit of the University System of Georgia.

Anne T. Rodgers, Ph.D., M.T. (ASCP), is a professor of medical technology.

Deanna S. Cross, Ph.D., R.N., is an associate professor and coordinator of the nursing program.

Barbara G. Tanenbaum, Ed.D., R.D.H., C.H.E.S., is a professor and head of the department of Dental Hygiene.

Elwin R. Tilson. Ed.D., R.T.(R) (QM), is a professor and the clinical coordinator of radiology sciences.