The Four P’s of a Great and Powerful Teacher

For those of you who have paid close attention to my blog or my tweets will have noticed that I love Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I have been reading those weekly if not daily since undergrad. It was such a well-known fact about me reading them that the Dean of Students at my undergrad would frequently save the hard copy of the Chronicle that she received for me and I would get it the next time I saw her.

This week there was an article online discussing powerful teachers. It started with the point that recently teaching in higher education has become a much more discussed topic than it once was. That is great and I hope that conversation continues. Isn’t that part of why we are all taking this GEDI course—so that we can discuss and stay on top of the discussion about teaching?

The article then goes on to discuss powerful teachers and what makes people great. One point the author makes is that we all remember certain teachers that were great. That is true—yet I bet if you asked ten people even a year after a course some would rank a teacher as great while others wouldn’t. Again, we can’t all be great for all students. What worked best for me as a student does not necessarily work great for the students I am currently teaching.

Anyways, the author argued that there were four traits or properties that made teachers great and powerful (maybe like the Wizard of Oz?). The four are: Personality, Presence, Preparation, and Passion. Within personality he stated that one should be approachable, professional, funny yet demanding, and comfortable/natural. Some of that goes back to our discussion of authenticity. The second one, presence, he discusses being able to “own” a room, basically referring to being charismatic. This one I have a bit of trouble with because I don’t know that everyone can or should be charismatic. I definitely do not think that I have that characteristic. I am engaged in the classroom when I teach in-person, but I am an awkward person and always have been. I do my best to put that aside, though I think it will always shine through on some level when in front of more than 10 people.

Preparation and Passion I fully agree with. As a student and as an instructor I want and need those around me to be prepared for what we are getting ready to do. I want things laid out logically, or at least as logically as possible. It may make me a workaholic, but I spend many breaks preparing for the next semester, so that when I am in the middle of my own classes and other work, I am not frantically trying to prepare for the course I am teaching. And, admittedly, teaching online helps with that. I also have a great love for my discipline and what I study and teach. Even within my child development course, which is not my main research focus area, I bring in a little bit of what I love and desire within the topic. Though sometimes I worry I do not show my passion or that it does not come across, students actually seem to pick up on it.

5 Responses to The Four P’s of a Great and Powerful Teacher

  • Emily says:

    I like this idea of the four P’s. I think some teachers think Passion is so important that if you have enough passion for a subject, you will naturally be good at teaching it. Also, if a teacher isn’t very effective, then he/she just isn’t passionate enough. And maybe worse, if a teacher is really passionate about a subject, then that enthusiasm will just automatically transfer to the students, so the teacher doesn’t have to actually try to get students interested. So anyway, I like the idea of a balance between Passion, Personality, Presence, and Preparation!

  • Miko says:

    I think students can always tell when a teacher is passion driven, even if you think you are not projecting that passion. People have different ways of projecting and expressing things, so I am sure your students by now know how much you enjoy being with them.

  • Ryan Horn says:

    I think one of the most powerful ideas you mentioned here is that we are not able to be life-changing for all our students. Sure, many of us have an ideal in our heads that we would like to have “Dead Poet’s Society” moments every single day in our class, but we should really just focus on doing our absolute pedagogical best and forgetting the rest.

    Also, I 100% agree with the 4 P’s. Like Emily mentioned, if we can achieve a balance between passion, personality, presence, and preparation, we will in fact be great teachers even if we don’t impact all our students.


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