What makes a good teacher: VPA’s thoughts

Emerson Csorba - Mon Oct 03, 2011

Improving teaching quality is central to being an effective Vice President (Academic). However, I have not yet discussed what I believe constitutes good teaching. The point of this entry is to share my perspective on what makes a quality teacher.

As a student at Campus Saint-Jean, I am fortunate to be in classes of 2 to 30 students, rather than the 200 or even 400-person classes that many Arts and Science students experience. Because of the small class environments, my professors and I can get to know each other. However, no matter the size of the class, I think that the best teachers share certain characteristics in common. Here are some of the qualities that stand out the most to me:

  1. Good teachers push you to be better: In my experiences, the best teachers push me out of my comfort zone. When teachers challenge me, I initially think, “Damn you! You’re making this impossible for me.” But in the long run, these are the teachers that stand out most. They are the ones that turn off the Powerpoint and talk to you. Rather than reply to a class comment with, “Good point,” they ask, “Can you tell me why this is important and why I should listen to you?” In one of my first classes at university, the instructor had students debate 2 vs. 2 regarding a particular aspect of a documentary we viewed in class. This forced students to reflect actively about what they had just viewed. It put the onus on us to prepare an argument and defend it.

  2. Good teachers encourage questions. If a teacher limits questions or gets irritated when you ask them something, that is discouraging. The best teachers that I have had recognize that there are often more answers than questions, even in their own discipline.

  3. Good teachers are passionate about their field of study or research. When you can see that an instructor just loves her or his job, that rubs off on you. Teachers serve as role models for students. If they “go through the motions” each class and do nothing but read off Powerpoint slides, then that enthusiasm just doesn’t come across. The best teachers tell stories, speak without any visual prompts and inject passion into their classes. In first year, I had a Classics prof who would demonstrate physically how the Spartans and Athenians would engage in war. He was dynamic, and students listened.

  4. Good teachers listen to you. There are some teachers that make eye contact with you when you speak and who act in a way that shows that they’re listening. It’s difficult to describe, but you know when someone is listening, versus when a person is multitasking and half-listening to you. One of my best teachers takes each student’s question and responds to it via e-mail, sharing that response with the entire class. It’s not surprising that this teacher recently won a prestigious university teacher award.

  5. Good teachers realize that they are learners too. In second year, one of my professors had students write a paragraph one month into the class about what she could do better as a teacher and what she was doing well. By the second month of the class, you could tell that she had read those paragraphs, because her teaching style had changed. There is nothing about being a professor that guarantees that one is a good teacher. One needs to actively reflect on what can be improved.

These are the important things I advocate for in instructors at the U of A. But chances are you feel I’ve left something out of the equation. Well, you’re right. The list above is not exhaustive, but it is nevertheless an attempt at starting the discussion about what makes a good teacher. Thank you for reading this, and I look forward to talking soon. My door is always open in SUB 2-900 and I encourage you to call at 780.492.4236 or drop an e-mail at

In solidarity,