How does one 'seem' more enthusiastic?

Hmmm, I was guessing so. My “serious face” can make me look as if I’m frowning, but really I’m just concentrating and thinking hard (what? they can’t see the smoke?) :smiley:

I taught college PE classes for 12 years in addition to my “real” job. As another doper said, you have to find a way to goof it up that’s completely “you”. Mine was in being goofy and using self-deprecating humor. Maybe yours is a more sophisticated style. Mine was more suited to my department (that of PE), maybe yours can me be more fitting with your subject.

Practice smiling and thinking about smiling at other times than when you’re teaching, talking on the phone for instance. People really can “hear” a smile in your voice.

It’s possible that you’re still suffering from a little bit of stage fright. Remember how you feel when you’re listening to someone teach. Chances are, you’re not judging their every thought and move right? Your students, particularly given their youth, probably aren’t either.

One thing I started doing was making sure that part of my lesson plan was devoted to getting to know my students (it doesn’t have to take much time, maybe a nice introduction period at first, and then every 3 or 4 classes or so maybe allow a bit of personal time maybe at the end of the class period).

Absolutely. Students have very different expectations for male and female instructors, and you can get killed for things that no man would have a problem with. It sucks, but that’s the world we live in.

Still, I haven’t seen anything in this thread to convince me that there’s an actual problem here. Have your professor look at your comments and see if he thinks there’s any indication that you need to make changes, and if so, have a friend or mentor sit in on your lectures for more specific and relevant advice than you can get from strangers on the internet.

One thing that’s really killing the OP in her reviews, i think, is the nature of the reviews themselves. I teach college-level history, and i have friends who teach in public and private universities all over the United States, and one real problem is that more and schools are moving to a system whereby filling out evaluations is optional, and is done online or through some sort of individual submission system.

As the OP realizes, this means that you really don’t get a representative sample from your classes. You tend to get the super-keeners, and the malcontents, just like on ridiculous web-based evaluation services like RateMyProfessors. Those are the only students who are going to eat into their own good time in order to fill out an evaluation. If you distribute evaluations in class, and allocate class time for the students to fill them out, there is no reason for students not to complete them, and you get a much better sense of how the class as a whole really went.

There are still malcontents, and there are still plenty of students who seem to have a very depressing view of education, but at least the evaluations will be a better reflection of all students’ opinions.

Another problem, and one that might contribute to criticisms like those received by the OP, is the fact that many students seem to evaluate classes not by how much they learned, nor by how rigorous the requirements were (often the opposite, in fact), but by how much you entertain them. Entertainment and diversion seem to be valued over actual education by many students, and anything that forces them to tax themselves is often graded very harshly on evaluations.

I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t try to make our classes interesting, but we shouldn’t do this at the expense of content and intellectual rigor, which is what some students seem to expect. For me, the history that i’m teaching is inherently interesting—it is full of fascinating stories and outrageous people and infuriating episodes—but many students don’t seem to have much interest in the material itself.

This is especially true in required classes, where you will often have a lot of students who don’t really want to be there, but who have to take the class for their major, or for some general requirement. One of the classes i’ve been teaching is required for students in a particular major, and i consistently get my least positive evaluations in that class; others in my department have reported exactly the same thing.

If my students, particularly the ones in the required class, told me to show “more enthusiasm,” my response would be, “You first!” Because many of these students don’t do the required reading each week, make no effort to participate in class discussions, and sit there for an hour either with a dead-behind-the-eyes look on their faces, or text-messaging on their cellphones. In each class, it’s almost always six or eight keen, motivated, interested, and engaged students who really make the whole thing work.

This leads to another problem in course evaluations. In talking about the format of the class, two of the most frequent comments i get are “Too much reading” and “Lectures are too long.” Anyone see the problem here? I try to set enough reading to allow for extensive and interesting class discussion, but if no-one will actually read the assigned texts, and come to class ready to discuss them, it’s a bit hard to have a lively class discussion. In such cases, i’m left with little option but to lecture. This isn’t grade school, so i’m not going to pass out cardboard and glue and ask them to build a model of Fort Sumter, or make a poster about Pearl Harbor. This is a university-level history class, and we’re supposed to be dealing with ideas, and the way you do that is to read about them and talk about them.

Two of my favorite student comments exemplify the gap between faculty ideals and students expectations. The comments were both designed as criticisms, but i took them as high compliments:

“Class was always about a debate or an arguable point. History should be about what happened and the facts.”

“This felt like a critical thinking class rather than a history class.”

Comments like this make me unsure whether to feel :smiley: or :smack: or :frowning: .

The prof has read the comments (although I think he just glanced at them, really) and he said basically ‘don’t worry about it’. I just didn’t find that very helpful in light of the repeated nature of the comments. I might talk to him again, I’d be interested to know how he compares students from this class to students from his other class (he teaches an upper level elective).

This is exactly the system in place, and it is certainly flawed. The prof did bitch about that a bit, especially how low the response rate is.

This class is not technically required, but students who wish to pursue a biology major must take a minimum number of 2nd year classes, and there are only so many options. It seems like this results in a lot of students having at least one class that they have no particular interest in. I wish they’d see it as building a foundation for a solid understanding of the whole field of biology, but a lot of them see it as pointless. I’ve had comments like ‘I only want to study X (say, marine mammals), so I felt that this course was a waste of time’. And they complain about the exams. Even though I’ve told them I don’t set the exams. Those negative comments I don’t take so seriously, since I hardly forced them to sign up for the course.

The entertainment thing is an interesting point. I’m of two minds about that - I always enjoy an entertaining presenter, and I’ve seen some great ones. It’s certainly a skill I would love to have, and I feel like it’s something I should work on. But I also think that entertainment is not my prime objective. The cynical part of me feels like they would rather have a funny, goofy teacher even if they weren’t really on top of the subject. Reviews I’ve seen of other grad students kind of bear this out, too.

My best teacher has upbeat music playing on a little boombox when we stagger into her classroom at Oh-Dark Thirty. It’s terrible, horrible, outdated annoying music, but it always makes me smile a little bit when I hear it from the hallway. As you say, it’s a ritual. It tells me that Mrs. Z. is in da house, so to speak, and she’s enthusiastic, no matter what current stupidity is being rained on her (and us) from District this week.

She’s also funny and an ace nurse who knows her stuff inside and out, so there’s more to it than the boombox, of course. But it’s a signal to my brain to start booting up.

Another tip from Mrs. Z’s class: a piece of copy paper with A B C and D written in each corner, large. The students tear or fold the paper in quarters so that you can only see one letter at a time. Periodically in your presentation, give the students a quick multiple choice test question from the material you just covered. They can indicate their selection by holding up their piece of paper with the letter of their choice. Mrs. Z. never points out who got it wrong, but she will often ask if anyone would like to “defend their answer”. You get immediate feedback on whether or not they’re understanding the material or if you need to reexplain something, and they are forced to be involved in a fairly non-threatening way. You may even find that there are sections you can go faster on, if they’re all getting it before you thought they would, and save that time for material they’re not quite grokking.

Give them (and yourself) breaks. Set a timer if you have to, but be consistent and don’t skip breaks because you’re running behind. I know teachers are afraid that if they let the class leave the room for 10 minutes, it turns into 20, and to some extent they’re right…but if you skip the break, the good students start to fade, and the poor ones will get up and wander off anyway. If your class is very long, intersperse bathroom/meal breaks with 30 second “stretch” breaks. Adults cannot truly learn new material for more than 40 minutes, studies show. They can review or clarify information for about another 20. After that, you have to give them a break and/or change the topic and/or style of your presentation dramatically to get their brains to take in more information.

Another thought: Do you use Powerpoint? If so, go into your slides and delete half the content. Leave only the very mainest of main points, and those only indicated by a word or three. The rest of the material should come from you directly. Yes, I know students bitch if there’s no Powerpoint at all, but there’s nothing that screams “I’m phoning it in” like that annoying teacher who simply reads the Powerpoint at me. Nothing makes me skip class faster - if you’re not adding anything to the Powerpoint in class, why should I show up? I can read it at home while I’m surfing the Dope! And it really makes me wonder if the teacher actually understands and is enthusiastic about the subject material, or if she just downloaded the Powerpoint from the publisher.

The one about thinking you hate them can definitely be discarded. That is almost certainly an anxiety/self-esteem issue they have. Since only a few people are saying the other two, you could probably just get by smiling a lot when class is just starting, being friendly outside of class time, and maybe sneaking in statements of being happy to be teaching.

I actually use Powerpoint very sparingly - usually just for more complex diagrams, little videos of how things work, pictures, and sometimes vocabulary. I write and draw on the board a fair bit, which always seemed more interesting to me as a student (taking notes keeps you awake), but seems to really annoy some students.

Also, the lectures themselves are only 50 minutes long, so there really isn’t time for a break. I do try to switch gears after a while, but sometimes there is a lot to cover within one topic, so the whole class ends up devoted to it.

I appreciate your thoughts though - there are some interesting ideas to try out in there.

The one about me hating them wasn’t even that bad in that regard. My first semester I got a complaint from someone that they did poorly in the course because I never answered their questions (FTR, I answer tons of questions both in class and by email and that often comes up in the complimentary comments). Anyways, this person then went on to say that they had never asked a question in class because they ‘didn’t feel safe in that environment’.

I have no idea what I was supposed to do about that.

Yay! Sounds like you’ve got that well in hand, then. I wish I had more teachers like you who know how to use it well.

Ouch. Yeah…50 minutes is too short to be too long, but too long to be so short! And at their age, they should be able to process information for that long - as you probably lose at least 10 minutes to paper shuffling and questions about what will be on the test. I’ve gotten so used to 3 and 4 hour lecture classes that I forget how short an “hour” long lecture can be. We’re barely getting warmed up by the 50 minute mark!

You’re most welcome. I’ve been very impressed with Mrs. Z; it’s obvious she’s taken a lot of Educating Adults classwork, in addition to her Nursing knowledge. I’m happy to pass along the bits that I, as a student, have found particularly helpful.

LOL. Roll your eyes and move on. Seriously? “She never answers questions so I never asked a question?” I’m not sure what the student meant to articulate, but I’m guessing she just got a case of the stupids. There’s constructive criticism, and then there’s just whining.

One way to show enthusiasm is to go beyond the official material. If you are teaching a topic and you just read a recent paper that built on that topic, mention it. If you had a professor who was a graduate student for the guy that discovered a concept you are teaching, and said so and so was brilliant but couldn’t hold his liquor, share that. If there are interesting applications to this thing you are teaching that won’t come up until some other course, mention those. Make them see that there is this whole world, this whole community of people who find this topic fascinating and who shape their lives around it, make them see see that what they are learning is an early step into a complicated system that they will soon master, make them see that you love molecular biology so much that you think it’s worth thinking about 16 hours a day for the rest of your life.

To put it another way: people believe what they are told, if it’s repeated often enough. I tell my economics students that economics is amazing, awesome, fascinating, cool–I tell them every day, and about every concept, in one way or another: "Ok, this is the cool bit. Watch what happens when I do this . . . " or “So wait, wait, wait, think this through . . .what is going to happen when I do this? You see that? Isn’t that awesome?” I ask them all the time “This is pretty cool, right?” at first they say “yes” just to kiss my ass, but if you say something enough, you start to believe it. And, I shit you not, fully 15% of my students go on to be econ majors or minors in college (I teach AP Econ in high school).

I know you are worried that if you do this sort of thing, you won’t have time to cover the required material, but let me tell you the single best piece of teaching advice I ever got: “covering” isn’t teaching. You get no special credit for having said it in front of them. This is a second-year course for biology majors? It’s totally legit to say “There is more about this in chapter X, make sure you read it and if you don’t understand it come see me during office hours. It will be on the test”. You can save yourself 20% of the time that way, and spend a bit of it telling funny stories and the bulk of it really teaching–not just covering–the concepts that need to be explained.

Will they all go look it up? No. But, well, that’s why we give grades, not just pass/fail–to recognize those kids who take the time to get a complete understanding. And in any case, when you just cover the available material word-for-word, they don’t retain much, anyway. In my experience, if you cover 100% of the material, going full speed ahead, the very best of them retain/understand maybe half of what you say. If you teach–really take your time, and explain what needs to be explained–80% of the material, they retain more like 75%. The weaker ones retain virtually NOTHING in a rapid “covering” style lecture, so the slower lecture is all gravy. For both sorts of kids, more total material is learned. And, since they have a more in depth understanding of the complicated parts, they are better able to go to the book and figure out the rest on their own.

The thing I read that changed my teaching was this…“teaching is emotional work, and good teachers make themselves vulnerable”

In order to do it right, you can’t just engage with your students on a formal level. You are asking them to open themselves up, to challenge themselves, to explore new beliefs and potentially radically change the way they understand the world. This makes them extremely vulnerable. If you are going to expect that from them, they are going to need to feel that emotional connection with you, and you create that by making yourself vulnerable. You create that by (as appropriate) speaking from your heart, seriously engaging in the knowledge your students bring into the classroom, giving praise and warranted criticism from a personal perspective (not just “Good paper” but “Wow, Alyssa, your understanding of concept X has really evolved. Great work, you have potential in this field” or “You look like you are starting to get a deeper understanding of the subject, but this paper still seems superficial. Ground your ideas in more concrete examples and really engage in the readings. You are obviously an intelligent student, and I think you can do much better than this.”), and otherwise just opening yourself up in the classroom.

Teaching should be an act of bravery, every time. Put yourself out there. Challenge yourself as you challenge your students. Teaching is a road you go down together with your students.

I don’t think a teacher has to be goofy or dumb down the class to keep the class entertaining/engaging. It has more to do with communicating why your subject is so darn interesting. It’s about stoking your students wonder and passion, and tying your subject to your students lives.

On a craft level, it also helps to engage to different learning styles. We are naturally biased towards teaching to our own style. but mixing up teaching styles helps more students understand and keeps things fresh. Have audio, visual and tactile (like the above-mentioned answering-with-paper…we are physical creatures, and the body can be a great learning tool) elements to your class. Mix up abstract concepts, real-world applications, hands-on learning-through-discovery and opportunities for deductive reasoning. Lead your students through not only the knowledge, but reflecting on and applying the knowledge. Mix up individual work, small-group work, and classroom wide discussion. Some people will hate some aspects, some will love others, but if you can work in the variety, you’ll give students a number of different ways of approaching the material.

How close are you working from the book? If you are just reviewing the book, the students are going to disengage. Set high expectations for the homework and reading (one thing a great teacher of mine does is giving up 8-10 simple questions that cannot be answered without engaging with the text as homework each week) and use your class time to engage with the course material rather than to transmit it.

If you want good student reviews, try this in your classroom. :slight_smile:

You’re probably bored and don’t know it. It’s hard to be enthusiatic about any subject if you talked about it to death. It’s NEW to the students but it’s OLD to you.

Sorry, I didn’t explain that very well. I know a teacher can be knowledgeable and entertaining and enthusiastic, and that’s what I’d like to aim for. I just meant that, based on what I’ve read in other peoples reviews and on things like RateMyProfessors, if you’re going to only have some of those traits many students would prefer entertaining over knowledgeable. For that matter I think some would prefer attractive over anything else - it comes up a lot, and RateMyProfessors has a whole category for that!

Anyways, I know some of these feelings reflect a bit of jealousy on my part and there’s not much use in comparing myself to others, but it’s frustrating.


Well, I think you’ve just laid out a pattern that’s going to put ANY instructor in the Bermuda Triangle of bad reviews. You’re trying to cover a lot of material quickly, to a group of students who’d rather not be taking the class, and your facial expression (and maybe your whole set of body language) isn’t by nature “entertaining.”

Do the students understand that your course lays a foundation for marine mammals or whatever? Could you throw in “those of you who are interested in X will want to take note here,” once in awhile? Maybe it could be a discussion point. “How does X appy to the real world phenomenon of Y?” It might reinforce that you understand what they’re going through and that you’re trying to teach to their needs, not just hit a bunch of points in the course description.