Great university math teaching

Teachers bring their own set of strengths to the classroom. Great teaching comes from:

  • Really wanting students to succeed
  • Enthusiasm
  • Rigorous preparation
  • Really knowing your material
  • Great storytelling
  • Connecting course material to past and future topics and applications
  • Encouraging questions – both in class and during office hours

Citations honouring past Faculty of Mathematics winners of the University of Waterloo Distinguished Teacher Award provide insights into some of the characteristics that make great math teachers:

  • “earned the respect and friendship of students and colleagues”
  • “talk with considerable authority and this is sensed by the audience”
  • “spend a considerable amount of time in preparing lectures”
  • “know mathematics and understands students”
  • “deliver lectures that are memorable: meticulously prepared, beautifully organized”
  • “a demanding taskmaster who succeeds in motivating students to work very hard to learn”
  • “spend untold hours in thinking of fresh approaches… and in implementing ideas”
  • “freely shared the fruits of his labour with his colleagues, and thereby multiplied the impact”
  • “able to convey the beauty and elegance of mathematics”
  • “excitement and enthusiasm for teaching mathematics is contagious, ensuring that students actually understand the material rather than just memorize it”
  • “teaches with passion and compassion”
  • “obvious concern for students gives them the confidence to take risks”
  • “has the insight to recognize when students are struggling, and the tenacity and patience to help them succeed”
  • “make course material easy to understand with well-organized notes”
  • “provide a very friendly atmosphere”
  • “an incredible work ethic, and a genuine feeling that he can make a difference through his teaching”
  • “extremely knowledgeable, insightful, and passionate about the material”

Common student complaints about lectures

  • There are not enough (or any) concrete examples.
  • Quizzes/homework/lectures don't necessarily match the exams.
  • Homework is not related to lecture.
  • The instructor shows little or no enthusiasm for the subject or the class.
  • There is no emphasis on what is more important and less important.
  • The instructor never asks questions, doesn't know what's going on in the class.
  • The material is dry.
  • Lectures add little to the text.
  • The instructor doesn't pause during lecture.

Source: Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning