As I have been counselling students this summer, a lot of conversation has come up from students over what course to take based on the professor who was teaching. They seem to really care about who the professor is and whether or not they think they will like them to determine which courses they may take, often based on word of mouth or what they read on ratemyprofessor.com
It is a curious thought. How much does liking a professor affect how well you will do in a course? Does the professor have to be likeable? Will you learn less if they are not? At the same time, as I am preparing for another academic year, I am also thinking about students opinions. I feel a lot of pressure in the first few minutes of any course because I know I am making impressions on the students about who I am as a professor. Will they like me? Will they listen to me in class? Does it matter if they like me or not? At the end of it all I want them to learn a lot from me and hopefully not hate me by the end of the term.
I have recently run into some of my previous teachers and I’ve thought about these things. The teacher I liked the most definitely convinced me to stay with an elective I was taking. I ended up pursuing more music courses than I probably would have because he was so passionate and so likeable, easily the most favourite teacher at our high school. But he was also tough. He expected us to know a lot and he certainly wasn’t “easy” on us. I had another teacher who terrified me. He was very different; sarcastic and unemotional, but I learned a lot from him, because I thought he was fascinating and I liked him as a teacher. Both great teachers, totally different personalities and one was easy to connect to while the other was more stand-offish. I’ve had professors in University that I had no connection with (or desire to know anything about them) and others who I was more curious about who they were because for whatever reason, I just liked them.
I can certainly understand a students desire to like their professor. From my own experience, its easier to listen to a person who I like. But I have liked different professors for different reasons. I think that if students know that their professors care about student learning and success, that it is the unifying trait that makes a professor great. I have liked all professors and teachers who I knew cared about my learning, whether they were funny, extroverted, sarcastic, unemotional or jumping on the desk excited.