Saturday, May 5, 2018

What Makes a Good Teacher


Though I wrote this article in the context of Higher Education – I feel is it universally applicable to all Teachers.

The Two Myths of Higher Education

From my personal experience as a teacher at the post graduate level in Engineering, Technology and Management  I feel that the two myths of higher education are:

1. The Higher the Qualifications  the Better the Teacher 

2. Money motivates Teachers.

Let us reflect on what makes a good teacher  especially in higher professional education.

MYTH NO. 1 – The Higher the Qualifications, the Better the Teacher 

Does a Ph. D. make a Better Teacher...?

Musings on the Qualities a Teacher must Possess

A teacher is a trustee.

It is just like the birds. 

You take a flock of young students under your wings 
 nurture them  teach them to “fly”  and when they are ready  you release them into the world  set them free  watch them with pride as they fly into the sky, soar high above you  knowing that they will never come back  wishing that they reach great heights which you could never reach  for nothing gives a teacher more happiness than when his student excels and surpasses the teacher himself. 

I have learned from experience that teaching has got less to do with knowledge
 and more to do with communication.

Teaching is about relationships as well as pedagogy.

Teaching is more about feeling than facts. 

It is all a question of vibes.

Once you establish positive vibes with your students  you can feel the delightful chemistry being generated between you and your students. 

In the parlance of Electrical Engineering  it is like perfect impedance matching  the maximum power transfer theorem  and you can experience the classroom rocking with resonance – when all the resistance to the flow of knowledge disappears  the intellectual friction vanishes  the barriers to communication melt away – and seamless effortless learning is achieved.

It is not important how much a teacher knows – What is important is how much the student learns.

For a teacher  communication skills are far more important than qualifications.

Teaching is about relationships as well as pedagogy – Teaching is more about feeling than facts.

Soft Skills outweigh Hard Skills as far as the art of teaching is concerned.

A highly qualified Ph.D. who does not know the art of teaching and fails to establish good vibes with his students cannot make his lectures engrossing – and this often may result in students losing interest in the subject – and in some cases – an insensitive teacher who lacks the requisite soft skills  and has poor interpersonal and ineffective communication skills – such a teacher may even end up making his students hate and despise the subject he or she is teaching. 

I have seen that many Ph.D. qualified teachers do not possess the requisite soft skills required for effective teaching.

In many cases 
 overqualification may be counterproductive – and the demonstrated ability at carrying out research (Ph.D) may not guarantee good teaching skills  especially at the undergraduate level. 

Unlike in schools where B.Ed. is a must for teachers 
 and a DECE or Montessori Training is desirable for primary and pre-primary school teachers  the fact of the matter is that in higher education most teachers have had no formal training in the Art of Teaching or Pedagogy – and they are appointed as lecturers and professors solely based on their academic qualifications and research publications  irrespective of whether they are proficient in Pedagogy and the Art of Teaching. 

That is why one sees so many well qualified professors with poor communication skills and inadequate teaching ability owing to which they are unable to motivate their students – and this hampers their ability to transfer their knowledge to the students. 

Insistence on a Ph.D. for a teacher 
 even at the undergraduate level  this precludes many otherwise talented persons including those with professional experience from entering as faculty in the teaching profession in higher and professional education – and this is a great loss of expertise  and results in only the academicians dominating the teaching profession. 

Of course, the ultimate losers are the students  and as a consequence, the nation and the society at large. 

In fact  this is one of the reasons that many organisations and employers have to invest heavily in induction training – as fresh graduates are not industry-ready  especially in engineering and technology.

It is easy to make simple things difficult – but difficult to make complicated things easy. 

It requires good teaching styleeffective communication skills and appropriate soft skills to make difficult things easy and enjoyable to learn. 

The process of learning must be enjoyable. 

It must not be dry, didactic, boring and painful.

It is important for a teacher to remember that learning comprises two pedagogic processes: 

Getting knowledge that is inside to move out 
Getting knowledge that is outside to move in 

The second part of imparting knowledge from outside into the student is comparatively easier – once you’ve got the students interested, eager to learn, and the teacher is proficient in teaching skills and knowledgeable in the subject and domain specialization.

It is the first aspect  getting knowledge that is inside the student to move out  facilitating inward discovery on one’s self  motivate inquiry based learning – to help unlock the treasure within the student – that is more challenging – and this is the true test and indeed the hallmark of a good teacher.

MYTH NO. 2 – Money Motivates Teachers


Three Kinds of Teachers and 3 R’s of Teaching – Reward Recognition Respect

There are three kinds of Teachers:

1. Reward Oriented 
2. Recognition Seeking 
3. Respect Winning

Let us reflect a bit on each of the above types of teachers.


In the first category are those who teach for Reward

For them – teaching is like any other job  a profession rather than a passion  a means of earning their livelihood. 

They believe that if they teach ‘X’ number of hours – they are entitled ‘Y’ salary. 

For any extra teaching load – they expect what the industry bluntly calls overtime – and for which academics use euphemisms like honorarium etc.


Then there are teachers who are obsessed with Recognition

They strive for awards, titles, designations, positions, peer recognition, publishing papers, honours, fellowships – being recognised is all about fame. 

Recognition is not so much about getting credit as it is about being appreciated.


The highest category of teachers are those who win Respect – respect of their students, respect of their colleagues in the teaching fraternity and respect of society. 

For them respect is one of the most critical dimensions of their life. 

Respect Winning Teachers are passionate about teaching and they are loved by their students on whom they make a lasting impression.

In Which Category is Your Teacher...?

So  Dear Reader  the next time you see a teacher  observe carefully – and try to analyse in which category he or she belongs – reward, recognition or respect.

A Teacher who strives to win respect will always be more student-centric, stakeholder conscious and effective – than Teachers who are greedy for rewards or yearning for recognition.

Are You a Teacher...?

If you are a teacher yourself  please close your eyes and introspect  and see for yourself where you belong – and truthfully assess whether your metier is in teaching.  

It is quite simple.

After you finish a lecture ask yourself six questions:

1. Is the lecture something you feel you have done well...?

2. Do you feel you teach well...?

3. Did you enjoy delivering the lecture...?

4. Do you enjoy teaching...?

5. Did you feel proud of the way you delivered the lecture...?

6. Do you feel proud of the fact that you are a teacher or would you rather be someone else...?

If the answers to all the six questions is YES  you know you are in the right place. 

So – Happy Teaching. 

Whether you are a Teacher  or a Student  or a Parent  don't forget the Three R’s of Teaching (Reward Recognition Respect)


So we have debunked the two myths of teaching  haven’t we?

Am I a good teacher? 

Have I won the respect of my students? 

Well, looking back at my teaching years, I trust I have succeeded in achieving this, and yes, I have been a good teacher.

Every time a course or training program ends, I feel a sense of pride tinged with nostalgic sadness as my protégés “fly” off to conquer great heights of success in their careers. 

It is indeed a delightful and unmatched experience to mentor young bright minds, to see them flower, blossom, bloom and flourish before your own eyes, observe them metamorphose from students into professionals.

I love being in the company of young talented people, full of zeal and enthusiasm, with a zest for living and a passion for learning. 

It makes me feel good and youthful, and as always 
 I “learn” more than I “teach”.

I feel sad, wanting to hold them back, not wanting to part 
 but I know I have to let them go to their destinies.

My dear students 
 as I watch you with pride in my heart, swiftly fly away, soaring high above me in the sky, vanish into the distance  to all my dear students  I will always bless you and sincerely wish you from the bottom of my heart: GODSPEED.

Godspeed – a wish for a prosperous journey and good fortune, my dear young friends, as you embark upon your first career, a new phase of your life.

Let me end with one of my favourite sayings  a quote from Indira Gandhi:

My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people:

1. Those who do the work 
2. Those who take the credit

He told me to try to be in the first group  as there was much less competition over there. 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

This was written during my teaching days as a Professor at IAT Pune  and have I posted it online in my blogs a number of times including at urls:  and etc 

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