Why College Students Should Like Their Instructors

Why Students Should Like You

October 14, 2010, four people found this website with the search phrase “getting students to like you.” I posted a question to a LinkedIn group to which I belong. I asked those in the group if they thought is was important for students to like their instructors.

The feedback to date can be summarized as follows:

  1. It is more enjoyable for the instructor if students like him/her;
  2. It is more important that student’s like the course; and
  3. Students may be more motivated to learn if they like either the instructor or the course.

This seems like stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious is not … well .. obvious.

A Lesson for College Instructors

Students are more motivated if they like their class. They may like the subject or they may like the teacher or they may like both the subject and the teacher. Logically, it would seem that students who like both would be the most motivated.

I have read several articles recently that address student motivation. Most researchers agree that intrinsic motivation is the most important factor for student learning.

Some academics believe that self efficacy is the most crucial factor. This would explain how students stay motivated in online university courses such as an online accounting degree when the instructors are not present physically.

Student learning is paramount. So, isn’t the real goal for college instructors to get students to like the course no matter how that comes about? Shouldn’t instructors help struggling students gain confidence in themselves and their ability to learn?

Changing College Students’ Attitudes

It is a good idea for instructors to attempt to get students to like them. If students come into the course disliking the subject, a well thought of instructor may be able change their attitudes.

This seems like common sense, but the basis for my contention is rooted in psychology and attitude change theory. It comes from the work of Fritz Heider in 1944. Heider posited what he called “Balance Theory” to explain how people form and change their attitudes. The principle is simple and best illustrated with a few examples:

Positively Balanced System – George loves history and he likes his history instructor very much. It is fair to assume that his instructor likes history too, which means all is in balance. There is no motivation for George to change his feelings about history.

Negatively Balanced System – Christopher dislikes his English literature teacher who loves Chaucer, and Christopher particularly dislikes Chaucer. The fact that Christopher dislikes both his instructor and Chaucer is consistent. Certainly, someone he dislikes is not going to change his opinion.

Unbalanced System – June likes her math instructor, but she dislikes algebra. This is not consistent. The system is not in balance. Perhaps her instructor can help her gain an appreciation for algebra. If June really likes her instructor, she will be open to advice.

Heider contended that people strive to be in balance. So, it is reasonable to assume that a likable instructor can have an impact and his or her students’ attitudes. I have seen this happen. I remember the math instructor who could hardly hold back the tears when she told me about a math-phobic student who struggled the first couple weeks. The instructor tutored her and encouraged her. Not only did the students grades improve, this young lady who was scared to death of math now wanted to be a math teacher.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

October 21, 2010


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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