Many factors contribute to a successful college career. UTSA does its best to offer up-to-date technology, informative advising, student support groups and engaging extra-curriculars — but the most influential factor for academic success may be the professor.
In a survey published on May 6, a Gallup poll expectedly found that life in college had a significant effect on life after college. A survey of 30,000 college graduates asked what they felt was the strongest influence to their success; 63 percent attributed their academic success to a motivational professor who made them excited about learning — nearly double the amount that attributed success to an internship.
Similarly, 27 percent of graduates stated they had a professor who cared about them as a person, and 22 percent had an encouraging mentor. The results were consistent among private, public, small, large, selective and less selective colleges, indicating that university prestige had little influence over professor quality.
This collegiate success later translated to workplace engagement, which was found to be an indicator of overall well-being.
With so much depending on a good professor, it is absolutely essential that students consider a professor’s credibility when choosing classes. Websites such as ratemyprofessor.com allow students to view peer critiques of professors and provide scores based on a professor’s helpfulness, clarity and the easiness of a class. However, it is important to note that students who comment on such websites were typically either very unhappy or very satisfied with a professor’s performance.
Currently, UTSA’s professor score is relatively high, ranking 3.74 out of 5. While some professors received low marks for having a difficult class, many student grievances complained about a professor who was inattentive or unclear.
While there is no formula for a perfect professor, many of the best professors exhibit similar characteristics.
A 2011 report published by The Journal of Effective Teaching outlined qualities of a good professor. Going beyond the call of duty, knowing the material, teaching the material well and understanding the student were among the qualities of a good teacher, and an excellent teacher took interest in students, made personal connections and encouraged lifelong learning.
Associate Dean of the Honors College Dr. Ann Eisenberg serves as an advisor for many students. “It’s really important to pick a professor who has a reputation for taking time for students,” said Eisenberg. “Professors care about their students but not all professors can effectively communicate interest. A good professor would reach out and make students feel okay to talk and ask questions.”
Establishing a personal connection with a student can be difficult in classes with over 300. Professors may not learn every student’s name, but they can still offer convenient office hours and work with students who request help. As UTSA grows into a larger and more traditional college, its professors should not forget that many students are non-traditional part-time students, working and rearing children.
Certainly not one professor is perfect for everyone. Different professors and students have different styles. When looking for accurate professor critiques, “You want to talk to people who are like you academically,” said Eisenberg.
For students with lives outside of school, avoiding a professor who is inflexible or doesn’t provide extra credit opportunities can be the difference between passing and failing a class.
“One important lesson that professors can help students to learn is that effort matters a lot in achieving success,” said Professor Daniel Engster from the department of political science and geography.
He permits students who miss assignments to compensate by writing summaries of assigned reading. “I allow for this type of extra credit because it gives students a sense that they have control and ownership over their grade, which I hope makes it more meaningful for them,” said Engster.
A counterargument against flexible grading that many professors present argues that when students find jobs, their employer will not tolerate incompetency.
Undoubtedly, workers who do not meet deadlines are less likely to maintain employment, but college should be where students learn more than how to memorize facts. A good professor will inspire a passion for learning that will allow graduates to do far more than simply be good enough.