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The Human Side of Teaching

Mary J. Allen

Director, Institute for Teaching and Learning
CSU Office of the Chancellor


Effective teaching is more than the efficient delivery of information to students, and a recent experience at a systemwide faculty development conference reminded me again of the importance of the human side of teaching.

At the 2002 Teacher-Scholar Summer Institute, CSU faculty participants were invited to "name one characteristic of the best teacher you ever had" on 3.5- by 4-inch pieces of paper that would be used later as coupons for a door-prize drawing. Fifty-eight of the 76 faculty who submitted coupons offered a characteristic. I grouped the responses into seven categories, as summarized in Table 1.

Although others might organize the responses into different categories, anyone looking at these data would probably agree that "the best teachers" that these CSU faculty respondents ever had were most often described as individuals who were enthusiastic about their disciplines and about teaching and who demonstrated respect and support for students through their encouragement, compassion, and acceptance of student effort. Faculty participants also associated competence, organization, and high standards with their best teachers, but these attributes were less frequently mentioned.

Chickering and Gamson developed the classic "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" by reviewing over 50 years of research. This list reinforces the importance of many of these same characteristics, including the value of student-faculty contact and respect for individual differences in abilities and learning styles. In addition, the principles specify that effective teachers set high expectations, help students manage their time well, encourage active learning, and provide prompt feedback. CSU faculty, with their terminal degrees from highly respected universities, are experts in their disciplines, but, as many of us learned when we began our academic careers, effective teaching also requires respect for our students, belief in their ability to achieve, commitment to mentoring, and purposeful design of curricula and pedagogy to engage them in learning.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching in the CSU is the general recognition of the human side of teaching and its importance for student development. As we make plans for our fall teaching, let's remember the enormous personal impact faculty have on student's lives. As we integrate new faculty into our departments, let's pass on this important tradition.

Posted August 7, 2002
Modified July 8, 2003

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2002 by Mary Allen.

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