Professors' engagement in the classroom matters for student success

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 9/27/17 10:17pm

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During a student's time at Grand Valley State University, they will inevitably encounter a variety of professors, all of whom will have different teaching styles, perspectives and personalities. Some professors may value group work, student-led presentations and lively class discussion. Others may stress the importance of listening to rich lectures, reading and analyzing texts, and writing thoughtful essays. In short, depending on the subject material they're teaching and their own views of pedagogy, professors will exhibit a range of teaching styles.

How professors teach their classes, and the level of interest and engagement they show, has a significant impact on student success. Just like how a student's level of interest and motivation can make or break their performance and experience in a class, so can the professor's. 

A professor's interest level and investment in a class is vital for student success. If a professor doesn't care, students will be able to tell, and they likely won't do as well. When the professor clearly doesn't value what's going on in the class, their students' interest in the topic and their willingness to work hard to succeed will indubitably wane. On the other hand, if a professor is really invested in the class, the students will show greater interest in the topic and in their work and will experience greater rates of success.

Maria Landon, a marketing professor at GVSU who entered a piece of artwork in the annual ArtPrize competition, is one such professor whose investment in her classes has had a significant, positive impact on her students, many of whom she has remained in contact with after their graduations. Landon's students fondly recall how she would connect with them by bringing a different pen from her vast collection to each class and sharing its story. Landon's ArtPrize entry, "Every Pen Has a Story," is the result of encouragement from her students who urged her to use her pens to create a unique piece of art.

There are, of course, many other professors like Landon at GVSU who leaving lasting, positive impressions on their students. These professors genuinely care about student success, and they show it every class.

Still, this is not the case for every class at GVSU. We've all had one or two professors who have been disinterested, visibly bored or unreasonably inflexible. This is an issue because these types of professors negatively impact student success.

It seems that lower-level classes are most likely to be breeding grounds for this type of scenario. A lot of 100- and 200-level classes are either classified as general education courses or necessary prerequisites for higher-level courses. Because of this, many of these classes inevitably fill up with students who may not be particularly interested in the topic but who want to knock out some required courses. Other students enrolled may be taking the class as a major or minor prerequisite, but even these students are more likely to drop out of their program and change major than a student in a corresponding 300- or 400-level course.

Because of the students who make up these classes and the relative unlikelihood that they will continue pursuing the subject in more advanced classes, professors may be less invested in teaching them.

Still, there are plenty of students enrolled in these courses who are genuinely interested in the topic who may be majoring in the topic or taking the course as an elective. For the sake of these students (and the others who still deserve a positive experience for how much tuition they pay), professors need to be invested in their teaching and live up to GVSU's mission to be a teaching-oriented institution. Besides, when a professor is visibly engaged and interested in their class, it makes students excited to learn the material, even if it was not a subject they were initially interested in.

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