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What does the teacher want?

Though it may surprise you, most faculty want you to do well.

Partly we want you to do well because mostly we are nice people and would be pleased if everyone did well. But also we are in physics because we find the subject interesting and fun and we’d like to share that with others.

You may have thought that the primary job of the faculty is to teach you. And that is not quite right.

The best teacher in the world may be able to make a course come alive, help you develop your own skills and understanding, and open your eyes to a new way of looking at the world. But the worst teacher in the world can only slow you down. The ultimate responsibility of how much you learn and how well you learn rests on your shoulders.

But faculty actually have two jobs in the course. The first is to help you learn, and the second is to evaluate how well you learn. Though we want you to do well, most of us are also honest in our attempts to evaluate how well you have learned.

How does the teacher work?

This may be a more useful question for you. Though we are all there to help you learn we each approach the task very differently. And regardless what is being used, again it is your responsibility to adapt and learn from the method used.

One of us may use lectures thinking that a well-constructed lecture will reveal the material, motivate your attention, and model critical thinking skills. And it may. So study the lecturer and ask -- how do they lecture?

Are the lectures well organized? Do they follow an outline structure that you can pick up on? Does the instructor use many examples and work toward a general, abstract principle? Or does the faculty start with a general theory and work down to apply the theory to specific problems? Or does the lecturer stay with the theory and leaves the details of problem solving to you and the book? Or do the lectures change? Are the lectures paced with breaks? Or are the lectures an extended marathon? How does the lecturer speak? Are there clues about important points and possible test questions?

Possibly the teacher will use discussion questions in class. And again you will have to study the method and see how to maximize your learning.

Do you see the logic of why these questions are important? Do you have to explore the questions thoroughly before moving on? Are the questions too simple or too abstract? Are there phases (e.g., beginning, clarification, exploration, conclusion) in the discussion? Are there many questions you cover lightly? Or are there few questions you explore thoroughly?

There are more and more faculty using a variety of "active learning" strategies in the classroom. Most often these faculty members discuss why the strategy is being used. But regardless you should ask yourself how does the method work? How does it help me learn physics? How do I adapt to this method to maximize what I learn?

The general skills study sites on the main study page will give you many hints on dealing with lectures, discussions and other classroom strategies.

How does the teacher evaluate you?

Under ideal circumstances the instructor will choose an evaluation method in line with the way you are learning. Homework, quizzes, and tests are the most standard way of evaluating your understanding but other methods such as journals are sometime used.

As I have said before physics is a complex subject and the tests may focus on problem-solving, concepts, abstract description and derivation of theories, and/or analyzing physical phenomena. So you may well end up with an instructor who lectures on concepts, assigns homework solving problems, and then tests on abstract theory. There is logic to this though it may escape you.

The only thing you can do is ask the instructor what to expect, listen and prepare as best as you are able. And be ready to change as quickly as you can.

Not only do we hold you responsible for learning the material, we also hold you responsible for showing us that you have mastered the material.

The study skills sites on the main study page will give you many hints on preparing for tests and quizzes. And the physics study sites also have some useful specific things to say about preparing for physics tests.


Back to Introductory Physics: A Learner's Guide