Baylor’s Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) holds a series of lectures every semester titled “Seminars for Excellence in Teaching.” These seminars help graduate student teachers, tenured professors, and everyone in between to meet the university’s historic expectations for teaching in the classroom. These are my accounts.

Photo courtesy of the Waco Tribune

Dr. Byron Newberry is a professor of mechanical engineering at Baylor University and is also the chair of the faculty senate. He loves teaching and has been doing it for the last 25+ years. On October 18th, Dr. Newberry lead a seminar for instructors about better connecting with students and therefore enhancing their motivation, attitude, and interest in the classroom. He shared pointers and stories to help others become their best at teaching.

The first thing that Dr. Newberry did was personally introduce himself to everyone as soon as they walked into the room. I thought that he was just being friendly, but it was actually a very important teaching technique. He wasn’t just introducing himself, but he was learning our names and would remember them as he called on us throughout the seminar. The fact that he remembered our names made it seem personal and that he deeply cared about sharing his knowledge with us. The same technique, as he demonstrated, should be used in the classroom, even if it is a large class and takes several weeks.

Dr. Newberry went on to speak about how important an instructor’s vibe is to the students. If it’s not positive, then the kids can pick up on that right away and feel the same way. There are different ways that an instructor can give a positive vibe: verbally, physically, and written. Each one is expected to remain in favor with the students. Additionally, communication is paramount when teaching. Weekly messages should be given out that not only goes over the curriculum, but also connects it to the real world. Dr. Newberry calls it the “terminator eye-view,” which is when someone sees the world through the lens of their career.

Another important lesson that I learned was that it is okay to make mistakes. It shows the students that they are not expected to be perfect and removes the fear of failure. It is also a perfect time to add some humor into the classroom setting. One time, Dr. Newberry lead an entire session around a problem that was incorrect. He admitted his mistakes and had a little fun during the next class when he handed out rubber bands, stood in front of the class, donned protective eyewear, and let the students fire away.

The last thing that Dr. Newberry presented on was the value of teacher immediacy, which is when instructors exhibit behaviors that decrease distance between themselves and their students. It not only gains them power and respect in the classroom, but also promotes cognitive learning, as well. Examples of teacher immediacy include using people’s names, moving closer to students, making specific eye contact, and treating them as part of a special group.

It was apparent that Dr. Newberry loves teaching and that he wants to help other people love teaching, too. It’s a valuable position that can help students reach extrinsic (grades) and intrinsic (enjoyment) goals and set them on the right path to success. Everyone can learn to become great teachers, especially the knowledge seekers among us. “If you want to learn more about something,” Dr. Newberry end with, “Then teach it!”

By Matthew Doyen