Parker Malenke

How To Teach College Students

This guide contains my thoughts as a seasoned college student on what makes a teacher good or bad. Nearly forty instructors over three years of college level education have constructed this understanding of educators. Some taught me how to deal with bureaucracy, some taught me how to transcribe slide shows onto lined paper, some taught me a little, some taught me a lot. In my experience, a number of good or bad practices exist which combine to determine the overall quality of a teacher. Hopefully this manifesto of sorts will drive beneficial change in the typical college classroom experience. Of course, the advice proffered below predominantly reflects my perception of education and does not represent an exhaustive collection of student opinions. I do believe, however, that many students would benefit if teachers put these principles into broader practice. At least my ideas might provoke discussion among teachers and students about efficient transmittance of knowledge.

Good Ideas


Teachers must understand what we as students need to know and then clearly communicate it to us. This applies to the general course material in addition to individual homework assignments and exams. I find it frustrating, if not disrespectful, when teachers fail to clearly delineate what they expect of students. My best experiences with such clarity have come from math classes that were typically organized with a very manageable load of weekly homework, which applied concepts from well articulated lectures, and periodic exams that students entered possessing well-formed notions about the types of problems to expect. Here are the key points:


Transparency goes cheek by jowl with organization. A minimal and consistent class structure helps significantly when establishing an accessibly organized (and hence transparent) class structure.


This is a little pet peeve of mine and perhaps less important to creating a good learning experience, but still influential. Good typography competes with good grammar when creating clear and professional communication. You can find several good resources for learning more about this essential subject online. (Here, here, here, and here).

Bad Ideas

Independent Floundering

I believe every student should exhibit proficiency at independent learning. It forms an essential part of being a genuine individual. With that said, I am paying you through the nose to facilitate my learning. I expect you to teach me. All too often, however, a teacher’s attempt at encouraging students to learn a topic outside of class results in the pupil simply floundering around online, bouncing back and forth between Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia.


Do not set out to entertain us. College students know an infinitude of ways to keep themselves better entertained than attending class. Your attempts will simply muddle up the concepts and add to the effort students expend on extracting information from class. Focus on teaching your material in a clear, concise, and accessible manner. If some students find themselves enjoying class, so much the better.


A college education is rooted on the idea of a contract between the school (professors) and students. We have mutually agreed that the school will provide knowledge and the students will provide money. Besides the simple standards of professionalism and etiquette applicable in any social situation, this is the extent of any obligation students have to professors. Specifically, professors should not impose penalties on behavior they personally and individually disapprove of but which does not impede other students. For example, skipping class, unobtrusively texting, working on the crossword, completing homework from other classes, etc. Of course all these activities may be viewed negatively, but the professor still receives payment, the contract is upheld. Once such activities impinge on the ability of other students to receive instruction action may be undertaken. But setting strict, arcane rules at the outset serves more to create a degree of hostility between students and the teacher.


Some students may need to hear a concept several times in several contexts before comprehending it. Some may simply need a brief reminder of it. Do not treat these two the same.

Online Anything

Digitization of homework or quizzes has never aided students and only added a depressingly high administrative and logistical barrier between their brains and course material.