General Teaching – How Important Is Classroom Atmosphere?

February 10, 2010 at 4:30 pm 2 comments

I’ve been talking lately with a few colleagues about the issue of classroom atmosphere. Is it important? Does it matter? My belief is that classroom atmosphere is the most important factor within our control and can affect student success.

If two teachers have equal mathematical ability, which is true for most instructors within a department, then content knowledge should not impact student success. I think we all understand which examples to use to help students understand a particular topic. The one factor that ranges from classroom to classroom is atmosphere.

Developmental math students, as a group, do not enjoy mathematics. They are taking math because they have to, not because they want to. Nursing students excel in their nursing classes because that is their field of interest. The same is true of journalism students, biology majors, … Students with a bad attitude about a particular subject are much less likely to be successful. We would love for our students to be highly motivated and driven, but that’s the exception not the rule.

If we do not create a positive atmosphere in our classroom we cannot light the spark that will motivate and inspire our students. Students put up a wall when it comes to mathematics – the instructor clearly is a genius because he or she understands mathematics. If a student feels comfortable in the classroom and does not feel that the instructor is an obstacle, then that student is more likely to be successful.

How do you create the proper atmosphere? It’s not as easy as you would hope. It starts with showing your students that even though you are a content expert, you can come to their level. You need to be approachable, so that a student will feel comfortable asking a question. Try to get to know your students, and show that you are interested in your students and their success. Use humor when you can to lighten the mood, but avoid sarcasm. Students already have feelings of inadequacy, there’s no need to make them feel worse.

Let me know what you think – George


Entry filed under: General Teaching, Math. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

Study Skills – Test Analysis Changes I’m Making In My Statistics Classes – StatCrunch

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Whit Ford  |  February 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Amen. And to your thoughts, I would add:

    Share your challenges learning math when you were younger, admit to the mistakes you (still) make too often for your own liking, and show students that you too are human. Their respect for you will not be diminished if you are passionate about the subject, and I believe this approach can also help them open up to you and their classmates, which makes asking questions or asking for help much easier.

    Share strategies that have worked for you and/or others to overcome your flaws/challenges and succeed in (perhaps even enjoy) math. Talk students through your thought process as you approach a problem, share your uncertainties when they arise (will this approach lead to a solution… I don’t know yet), and help them understand the (not always linear) thought processes that help lead to a solution.

    But most of all, let both your words and actions always show great respect for your students’ efforts to learn the subject – be they great or small – particularly if they were not as successful as they had hoped.

  • 2. Diane  |  March 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I agree! Wonderful words.

    One of my main goals is not to get my developmental students to love math….most of them are never going to love math. But its to get them to hate it less. To enjoy coming to class – to get a smile when they get a problem correct and to not get down when they don’t.

    I love my developmental students and wouldn’t know what to do with an actual math major! (it might be fun to try sometime though!)

    Thank you for all of your ideas on teaching and on using MathLab. I’m going to make sure I real them all!


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