Posted by: Gregory Linton | 07/09/2020

What does it take to be a “master teacher”?

At the start of a new term, it can be helpful for instructors to conduct a self-examination and make plans for improving their excellence in teaching. A useful tool for this purpose is the Teacher Behavior Checklist. In 2002, a study was published that identified twenty-eight behaviors of a “master teacher,” which the authors compiled as a Teacher Behavior Checklist (TBC). A master teacher is a teacher from whom students have learned much and enjoyed the learning process. This study was the result of multiple surveys of undergraduate students and faculty members. The behaviors could be categorized into two larger categories identified by Joseph Lowman in Mastering the Techniques of Teaching: (1) Caring and Supportive Behaviors and (2) Professional Competency and Communication Skills. The Teacher Behavior Checklist has since been used as student evaluation of teaching, and many studies have confirmed its validity and utility in assessing an instructor’s teaching effectiveness.

In these studies, students and faculty agreed on the following six qualities that were most important for excellent teaching:

  • Being knowledgeable
  • Being enthusiastic
  • Being respectful
  • Having realistic expectations
  • Being approachable and personable
  • Being creative and interesting

In the Winter 2018 volume of New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Kirby, Busler, Keeley, and Buskist provided a concise history and description of the TBC (pp. 21-29). Here is the full checklist:

  1. Accessible (posts office hours, gives out phone number, and e-mail information)
  2. Approachable/personable (smiles, greets students, initiates conversations, invites questions, responds respectfully to student comments)
  3. Authoritative (establishes clear course rules; maintains classroom order; speaks in a loud, strong voice)
  4. Confident (speaks clearly, makes eye contact, and answers questions correctly)
  5. Creative and interesting (experiments with teaching methods; uses technological devices to support and enhance lectures; uses interesting, relevant, and personal examples; not monotone)
  6. Effective communicator (speaks clearly/loudly; uses precise English; gives clear, compelling examples)
  7. Encourages and cares for students (provides praise for good student work, helps students who need it, offers bonus points and extra credit, and knows student names)
  8. Enthusiastic about teaching and about topic (smiles during class, prepares interesting class activities, uses gestures and expressions of emotion to emphasize important points, and arrives on time for class)
  9. Establishes daily and academic term goals (prepares/follows the syllabus and has goals for each class)
  10. Flexible/open-minded (changes calendar of course events when necessary, will meet at hours outside of office hours, pays attention to students when they state their opinions, accepts criticism from others, and allows students to do make-up work when appropriate)
  11. Good listener (does not interrupt students while they are talking, maintains eye contact, and asks questions about points that students are making)
  12. Happy/positive attitude/humorous (tells jokes and funny stories, laughs with students)
  13. Humble (admits mistakes, never brags, and does not take credit for others’ successes)
  14. Knowledgeable about subject matter (easily answers students’ questions, does not read straight from the book or notes, and uses clear and understandable examples)
  15. Prepared (brings necessary materials to class, is never late for class, provides outlines of class discussion)
  16. Presents current information (relates topic to current, real-life situations; uses recent videos, magazines, and newspapers to demonstrate points; talks about current topics; uses new or recent texts)
  17. Professional (dresses nicely [neat and clean shoes, slacks, blouses, dresses, shirts, ties] and no profanity)
  18. Promotes class discussion (asks controversial or challenging questions during class, gives points for class participation, involves students in group activities during class)
  19. Promotes critical thinking/intellectually stimulating (asks thoughtful questions during class, uses essay questions on tests and quizzes, assigns homework, and holds group discussions/activities)
  20. Provides constructive feedback (writes comments on returned work, answers students’ questions, and gives advice on test-taking)
  21. Punctuality/manages class time (arrives to class on time/early, dismisses class on time, presents relevant materials in class, leaves time for questions, keeps appointments, returns work in a timely way)
  22. Rapport (makes class laugh through jokes and funny stories, initiates and maintains class discussions, knows student names, interacts with students before and after class)
  23. Realistic expectations of students/fair testing and grading (covers material to be tested during class, writes relevant test questions, does not overload students with reading, teaches at an appropriate level for the majority of students in the course, curves grades when appropriate)
  24. Respectful (does not humiliate or embarrass students in class, is polite to students [says thank you and please, etc.], does not interrupt students while they are talking, does not talk down to students)
  25. Sensitive and persistent (makes sure students understand material before moving to new material, holds extra study sessions, repeats information when necessary, asks questions to check student understanding)
  26. Strives to be a better teacher (requests feedback on his/her teaching ability from students, continues learning [attends workshops, etc. on teaching], and uses new teaching methods)
  27. Technologically competent (knows now to use a computer, knows how to use e-mail with students, knows how to use overheads during class, has a Web page for classes)
  28. Understanding (accepts legitimate excuses for missing class or coursework, is available before/after class to answer questions, does not lose temper at students, takes extra time to discuss difficult concepts)

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