The Alumni Association will honor 18 NC State professors on May 5 for their outstanding work in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. We talked (via email) with some of the recipients about their work and the keys to being a successful professor.
Today we’re visiting with Jan Spears, a professor of crop science. Spears is one of six professors recognized this year as an Alumni Association Distinguished Undergraduate Professor.
What is the key to being a successful teacher? Being relevant and flexible. I try to develop and deliver information that is relevant to my students. But relevant is often a moving target. What is relevant today may not be relevant next year. Therefore, I try to stay current with the latest scientific and technological advances and try to understand critical political, economic and environmental issues of the day. Also, what is relevant to an agricultural student from a farm in eastern North Carolina may not be relevant to an engineering student from the metropolitan Charlotte area, and they both may be in my class. This means that, as a teacher, I must understand the needs and background of both, and the pre-conceived ideas each may bring to the class. In recent years, I have found that being flexible enough to throw my relevant and structured lecture schedule out the window may be as valuable as being relevant. There are times when classroom (or on-line class) discussions develop a life of their own; they lead us down a path we had not intended to take. Frequently, this path leads to discovery, which is a wonderful experience for the students and for the teacher.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? My greatest satisfaction is watching students grow and mature, both personally and academically. There is no greater reward for me, as a teacher, than their achievements.