restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Ten Timely Tips for Teachable Teachers

 David Alan Black  

First off, I want to apologize for breaking a cardinal rule of writing: Always avoid the apt art of alliteration. That said, allow me to offer a few suggestions about the teaching trade. The semester is about to start, and we can all improve, right? Here we go:

1. Leave your office door open.

Always. There are two (and only two) exceptions: when you are having a private phone conversation, and when you already have a student in your office. Otherwise, you need to have an open door policy. It communicates tons to your students. It tells them you are never too busy to see them. It tells them they are important. It tells them they are not an “interruption.” You say, “It’s noisy in my office area!” Then leave the door open a crack. But DO NOT close it all that way – unless you want to tell your students to buzz off.

2. Answer your emails.

And I mean within 24 hours at the most. It’s called “courtesy.” I sometimes wait a week or longer to receive a response from an urgent email I’ve sent. I don’t like that, and neither do you. You’ll never know how much people treasure prompt replies to their emails until you try it. And forget that dumb “out of office reply.” Don’t you have a computer at home? Then use it!

3. Don’t answer your phone when meeting with a student.

I don’t care who is calling you. If the phone rings, let it ring. The student is likely to say, “Do you need to get that call?” You’ll say, “No, the machine will get it.” Then go right on talking to your visitor. Jim Elliott once put it this way: “Wherever you are, be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you are convinced is the will of God for your life.” Good advice, I’d say.

4. Put a welcome sign on your office door.

Mine says, “Welcome. Please come right in.” The point is obvious.

5. Be available.

This should be obvious but it ain’t. I have heard of faculty members whom it is impossible to contact. You can’t call them. You can’t email them. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has to go through a secretary. And the students have to wait and wait until they can get a precious appointment. Unless you’re an administrator (as in president of the institution), that is just plain wrong, folks. Accessibility is the right of a student. By being available you’re saying, “I’m here to serve you, not the other way around.” If you think students are there to serve you, then maybe you should look for another line of work.

6. Talk with students when you run into them on campus.

The least you can do is to say “hey” (that’s a North Carolina thing). There’s nothing wrong with chit-chatting. Students love it, and you will too.

7. Be punctual.

Here I’m not taking so much about the beginning of class (thought that’s important too) but the end. Students have the right to be dismissed on time. Don’t keep them over! If you must, at least let them know they are free to leave if they have to, even if you’re still talking. In short: keep your eye on the clock!

8. Never talk about your colleagues to your students.

“So you’re not teaching the class. Who would you recommend I take?” When I’m asked this question, I say “They’re all great.” And I never discuss personalities or giftedness. If the students really want to know anything about that professor, they will ask their peers – and will likely get an earful.

9. Be exciting in the classroom.

I once heard someone say, “There are no boring teachers. If they’re boring, they’re not teachers.” There’s a lot of truth to that observation. There’s nothing worse than a dull teacher. Don’t be one!

10. Make attendance optional.

I do. Always have. I never take roll. You see, if you don’t take attendance, and if you don’t make the student’s grade dependent on his or her attendance, that puts a premium on good teaching – where the emphasis should be anyway. Work hard to make your classes interesting and beneficial, and your students won’t want to miss them!

August 5, 2008

David Alan Black is the editor of

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