Students aren’t the only ones buying school supplies for a new semester. Behind the scenes, BYU professors can also be found preparing for the first day back on campus.
Professors may not need to buy new clothes or meal plans, but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from their own set of expectations and worries.
Although BYU statistics professor Dennis Tolley has been teaching for 32 years, he still feels a “refreshing love of life and youthfulness” as the campus fills with freshman and returning students.
Tolley taught his first statistic class in 1969 and views each new semester as a renewal of teaching excitement.
“I hope I can teach in a way that conveys the value and enthusiasm for the discipline,” Tolley said.
Tolley said he believes in a clear teaching plan that relies on various examples to help illuminate subject material.
“It’s difficult to teach if you don’t remember how it was like to be a student,” Tolley said.
Sociology professor Dallan Flake remembers what it’s like to be a student and to attend the first day of school and still feels the first-day-of-school anxiety now as a professor.
“It’s like a blind date—you go in and you have no idea what you are in for,” Flake said.
Many professors believe creating a class atmosphere of openness and communication is key in allowing students flourish.
“Some students are intimidated by some professors and don’t want to bother them by coming in (to the office) to talk about personal matters,” Flake said. “So I try to make them comfortable enough. That way, they can come to me and tell me what’s going on right from the beginning.”
Another way to build a better relationship with students is to have fun.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously (as a professor),” Flake said. “Be willing to laugh at yourself and to admit you don’t know the answer to everything.”
Flake often finds himself looking over new textbooks, articles and video clips that will help him keep class material as interesting as possible and make the course more relevant to his students.
BYU Spanish instructor Kempton Cox prepares for school by doing the usual tasks like updating the syllabus, but also goes a step further by preparing for what he described as “learning to love the students.” For Cox, this involves a proper balance of administrative duties with taking an active role in getting to know his students on a personal level.
“Learn to love your students before the semester starts—pray about it, get to know their names, bother to learn who they are,” Cox said.” Students should become more important to you than the subject material and what you are teaching.”
Flake also said being a professor opened his eyes to the harsh realities some students have to experience while in school.
“Lots of students go through hard things, and I can’t assume that everybody is on top of everything at all times or get frustrated when not everybody reads or gets their assignments done,” Flake said.
For many professors, getting to know students is the central motivation to getting out of bed the first morning of the semester. A strong student-teacher relationship seems to be the key to a positive semester.