1. Don't tell. Anyone can stand in front of a class and tell students stuff they don't know. A good teacher will always start with a problem, encourage students to suggest their own solutions and then proceed to tell the class the actual solution. Most good teachers I have encountered use a variation of this method to teach. It not only works well, it gives students a sense of accomplishment.
2. Let students come to their own conclusions about the subject material before you correct them. College students are not stupid. I've seen that the worst teacher will always tell students to "slow down for a moment" just so he can meticulously read through his shrink-wrapped bullet points. Boredom ensues.
3. Ask. Ask many questions. Heck, teach entire chapters as a series of questions.
EDIT: spelling, grammar, lameness.
Personally, I don't mind lecturers "telling" the answers straight away. Obviously give motivation and lead into it rather than just delivering it with no introduction, but I've found a lot of problems are simply too large or too non-obvious to take a straw poll from the class.
The best teachers I've had have been:
(i) Really bloody good at their subject. My probability lecturer (the Field's medallist Tim Gowers), when presenting the proof of Stirling's approximation, said something along the lines of "now, the normal method for proving this bit is a bit complicated, and on my cycle in this morning I thought 'There must be an easier way', when the following struck me. Now, I've never written this down before, so hopefully it works...", and of course laid out a simplification of a famous proof that worked perfectly. Inspirational. (See http://gowers.wordpress.com/2008/02/01/removing-the-magic-fr...)
(ii) Incredible elucidators. The ability to take a complex concept and pick exactly the right words or metaphors to explain it is a powerful ability.
I feel these criteria are far more important than asking the audience questions. You need both -- I've been taught by plenty of talented mathematicians who had no idea how to teach, and certainly a handful of great teachers who simply didn't have the aptitude to really grasp the more complex topics.
Usually there would be dead silence from the class.
And then he would say "I don't believe you." And he waited for someone to ask a question.
One thing I will do is to address the term "good teacher". A good teacher is very different from a "great teacher." I'll simply address good teachers in my post.
I do chuckle a bit when I read the replies that say, "This - you have to do this to be a good teacher." It's all so subjective. I've seen good teachers who were not great enthusiasts, good teachers who didn't give a #### about their students, and good teachers who lived and breathed the technology, loved their students, and were good people.
In my opinion being a good teacher requires wanting to be a good teacher, practicing the techniques of educating the age group you are teaching (there are massive differences in teaching each age group), and knowing the topic at hand.
If you actually care about the people you are educating, that is bonus but there are plenty of good teachers who, at the end of the day, couldn't care less about this group of students or whether they "get it". To give you an example, some of the great teachers know that they are great teachers and know that simply taking a class with them is an honor and they take the attitude, "If you're taking my class and you don't get it, then something is wrong with you - not my fault. <hundreds/thousands> have taken this class and gotten tons out of it and if you don't, too bad."
Just because you are an enthusiast means nothing - I've seen good teachers who barely know the topic. What they are good at, though, is simplifying complex topics and helping students understand the topics. The good teacher does not have to be a guru (and for many people, the more they know, the less of a good teacher they become because they lose the ability to make it understandable for the student).
As for passion, passion makes it easier for the student, sure, but it isn't a requirement to be a good teacher. I've seen lots of good teachers who learn a subject just so they can keep a job. They don't give a ### about that subject but, because they want to be good teachers and they work hard at it, they are good at teaching that topic. Would it be better if they were passionate about it? Absolutely.
All in all, I think it's a combination of several things to be a good teacher but passion and guru-ness aren't in that set. I think the want to be a good teacher is paramount and, along with that want, is a work ethic that drives you to become and remain a good teacher. Anything above and beyond that only makes you better.
The Socratic method was a good idea.
For instance after I learn a language and am trying to teach someone else the language I just can't see why the person is having trouble learning a certain concept of the language. It all seems so simple to me since I've already learned this language and it's hard for me to be able to empathize with the learner.
The teachers I learned the most from knew so much about the subject that they could explain things very simply. An example being in high school calculus - the teacher had a masters in pure math and was able to explain things in such a way that made everything seem simple.
Recently I started watching http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/hs/geb/VideoLectures/ after seeing it linked here on HN. During the first lecture the instructor takes several tangents, and those tangents help clarify the subject matter to such an extent that I would say that is what makes him a good teacher.
The GEB lectures you linked are an interesting example in themselves. The early tangents that the teachers launch into on their own are certainly helpful, especially in such a free-form class. But student questions and tangents soon dominate that class too, to the point that I found it quite unbearable. When there is interesting material to be discussed they continually relapse into tired speculations of the "well maybe the universe is just a giant computer simulation" sort. The last lecture in particular is completely dominated, and in my opinion ruined, by questions from the most persistent student. A teacher needs to take charge and keep the class on track. Perhaps in a real class Justin would have.
With that definition in mind, as a former pure math student, the best teaches I had were those who were
- oddly enough, good story tellers! By which I mean, they sounded very much interested in what they were telling me. Their narratives always had at least a few mini-mysteries going on just like in a good story. They used one thing leading to another kind of explanations rather than stating unrelated facts one after the other. The narratives always seemed to have a underlying theme even when that theme was sort of irrelevant to the lesson at hand.
- did not answer my question unless they properly understood what I was asking and why I was asking it. I hate it when I ask X and the teacher answers Y. The good teachers always went to great lengths to understand my questions.
- good mentors and guides and could help your career along if you deserved it. the best ones would go out of the way to make the system reward the deserving.
I think those were the two crucial factors. I have had awesome teachers on all sides of the arrogance, style, humourous, lenience, liberal, demanding, thorough/good enough at the subject matter, popular, good natured/asshole spectra.
Ummm... Not all the good teachers did this, but I very much liked the ones who actually tested what I had learnt rather than whether I was paying attention in the class or taking good notes or pretty much was even present in the class or not.
Respect is important because no student will be engaged in a class with a teacher of whom he has a low opinion. At best the student will ignore the teacher and turn to an alternate, respected, source - ie textbook. At worst, the student will entirely disengage from the subject.
To earn respect, I would suggest first that the teacher respect the student. A student who is respected will find class more enjoyable and engaging, knowing his ideas mean something.
Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences states that there are ~8 different types of intelligences. A student who is exceptional in one of them will learn best in that one - and will usually be more interested in information reaching him through it.
Out of the blue, it occurred to me that a file format analogy lends itself perfectly to the situation. A program may be able to open files of several formats, but it is built around one. This format will generally produce the best results for the program, even if it can interact competently with several other formats. Think excel (because I've had to deal with it recently). You can work with CSV files, certainly, but you can do much more with xls files.
So teach your material in different formats. Have the content available in both visual and auditory formats as a default, but whenever possible (and you really want to reach for these!) make it available in kinesthetic, verbal, musical, and social formats as well. (I've missed a couple of Gardner's intelligences. But you get the idea.)
Teaching to multiple intelligences will also increase students' respect for you. If you help them to understand something (by teaching it in a format that naturally makes more sense to them), they will A) realize that you know what you're talking about, and B) see that you are a better teacher, likely to teach them more stuff.
I don't mean to imply that everyone is naturally interested in learning everything, and it is only the format of the data that is interfering -- but how much more enjoyable is working with a dataset if you don't have to write a parser for the input format? ;)
My reasoning is simple. I had a lot of ok teachers who never listened to what the students had to say: the ones that could sit and discuss a subject with us might have had less technical knowledge but we definitely learned a lot more, as a class, with them. I wouldnt be surprised if they probably learnt stuff from us too.
Passion - yeh agreed. Though on the other hand the best teacher we had was borderline manic depressive but was great because he took nothing seriously (and got so bored of the work he taught us lots of cool things: so perhaps that counts as passion for some of the subject :D)
Strict, High Standards, Understanding/Human.
I really enjoyed the bill gates Ted talk where he talks about this topic and (remember?) malaria.
The intersection of "can explain to moms" and "clear communicator" is what makes a good teacher for me.
In school some TA's could explain to moms but were unclear communicators so they didn't make good teachers.
In my work there are fantastic communicators in the sales team, but their grasp of the subject matter is such that they throw around lots of industry vocabulary but wouldn't be able to explain it to moms. This makes them bad teachers.
Great teachers/professors always had both great communication and a mastery of the subject. From my time at MIT the perfect example of this type of teacher/professors was Walter Lewin for 8.01 classical physics.
I highly recommend watching his lectures at http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Physics/8-01Physics-IFall1999/Cour... (the picture of him on the website says it all.)
The OP sparked a story that Teddy Atlas (boxing trainer for Mike Tyson, Michael Moore, Golden Gloves champ) once told at a book signing.
While training Michael Moore, he had to gain a certain amount of trust / respect from him. One particular instance that stood out in his memory was Michael's fondness of going to the shooting range and firing guns. Teddy never fired a gun in his life but accompanied him to the range.
At the range, Moore and some of his friends shot at the targets and eventually started to egg Teddy on. Teddy finally gave in, took the gun, walked right up to the target, and shot at the bulls-eye at point blank range.
He then turned to Moore and said "THAT's how I fire a gun".
Teddy told the audience he could remember a shift in Moore's behavior and demeanor when he later trained him - looser, more accepting of Atlas's advice. Teddy did what he had to do to bring the better boxer out of Moore.
Moral of the story - go shoot guns with your students :)
Most importantly, the teacher should be disciplined enough to 'sharpen his/her saw', to be constantly, incessantly learning more of his/her art.
2) Having a full duplex interaction. Talking AT people will make them only bored, but not smart. Watch for reactions, ask questions to force the student to explore the topic being discussed. If they can't answer, try to find out where their train of thought stalled, and elaborate. Of course this doesn't work very well in larger groups of students.
Usually, neither circumstances (smart teacher, small group of students) are given in compulsory education.
A mediocre teacher knows what he or she wants to teach but doesn't make that connection with the individual students. The result is someone who teaches a curriculum, not a person.
This involves a great many things, and sadly is contrary to the way 90% of teachers - not just the pros - are taught to imply knowledge.
That's it, and it's applicable to every situation, from Kindergarten to a personal mentor. Almost all the other comments here voice preferred methods of achieving that objective, but the objective remains.
For technology in particular, there is always so much more to learn that by not having humility there is no incentive to want to learn, which is arguably the strongest point to make. Teaching is not one-way. Students have to want to learn just as much as teachers want to teach.
Coupled with the ability to convince them of the same thing