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This issue of CDTL Brief is the first of a two-part Brief that features the teaching practices of the 2005/2006 Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) winners.
August 2007, Vol. 10 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Excuse Me, Are You an Excellent Teacher?
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser
Department of Sociology

When I was asked to share my teaching philosophy and what I think are the qualities of an excellent teacher, my first concern was that I would end up saying things that are rather cliché and have probably been rehashed countless times by many others. Anyway, I will let the readers judge for themselves.

For instance, it should not surprise us that an excellent teacher would put in more than 100 percent commitment into designing, preparing and delivering a module even if he has been teaching it for the umpteenth time. Without doubt, an excellent teacher is one who gives top priority to teaching. By this, I mean that the time he spends on the entire process (i.e. preparation, delivery and student consultation) is never residual time but dedicated time.

An excellent teacher updates his module's contents proactively and keeps abreast with the latest trends and developments in his field while paying adequate attention to the fundamental concepts and ideas in the literature. Being an active researcher would certainly help keep his module's contents fresh, ideas exciting, assignments challenging and delivery passionate.

However, while constantly beefing up his materials, an excellent teacher should ensure that his module is pitched at the right level and kept manageable for students. This means neither dumbing the contents down nor overwhelming students with information.

An excellent teacher should make sure that the module has sufficient breadth and depth. An excellent teacher is neither a tech-fanatic nor a tech-dinosaur. He would use the latest technology to aid his delivery, but only if it facilitates or enhances learning. After all, it is the substance, not the form that matters.

He does not practise spoon-feeding, but provides enough leads to facilitate student learning and sufficient information to motivate students to go beyond what is covered in lectures and tutorials. While he encourages individual effort and some healthy competition, he also emphasises teamwork and collaboration.

He is pre-emptive in his approach to module administration, anticipating problems before they appear. This may involve ensuring sufficient copies of the textbook and course pack for sale to students or that e-journal articles, media resources and course materials are made accessible to students ahead of time.

An excellent teacher keeps track of what is happening on the ground. He is responsive to students' queries and questions, and is quick to reply emails and address students' concerns. He gathers feedback on a regular basis through various means, but mainly through an open-door policy and interactions with students. While he has a game-plan for reaching out to students, he is flexible enough to make necessary adjustments and modifications along the way. After all, a game-plan is only as good as its effectiveness in achieving its objectives.

An excellent teacher comes across as genuinely friendly, compassionate, understanding, caring and nurturing. He puts students at ease, affirms them and brings out the best in them.

He is real and does not put on a show. His students regard him as firm but fair, someone who provides honest, even if negative, feedback with the intention of building up, not tearing students down. He is therefore not just a nice guy without any strong convictions or someone who tries too hard to please by being politically correct.

The bottom line is this: an excellent teacher knows in the final evaluation (I am referring to his own self-evaluation) that teaching is neither about putting on a good show nor about winning a popularity contest. Rather, teaching is about developing in students an ability to think critically and creatively, and a passion for lifelong learning. Of course, an excellent teacher would also desire to see his students become good and active citizens with positive self-image, humility, solid morals and a genuine concern for the well-being of fellow human beings.

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Inside this issue
Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk: Teaching History at NUS
Teaching: Share Your Passion and Have Fun
Taking Charge of Learning— Ownership, Learning and a Conducive Environment
Can Computer-aided Instruction Effectively Replace Cadaverbased Learning in the Study of Human Anatomy?
A Perspective on Medical Education
Excuse Me, Are You an Excellent Teacher?
The Empirics of Teaching Quality