2012 Faculty Awards: Q&A with Barry Croom

April 27, 2012
By Bill Krueger

The Alumni Association will honor 21 NC State professors on May 3 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 Barry Croom, a professor of agricultural and extension education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Croom is one of six professors being recognized as Distinguished Undergraduate Professors.

faculty-croomWhat is the key to being a successful teacher? There is no “magic bullet” to being a successful teacher. It’s a combination of knowledge, experience, skill, magic and luck. You see, the success of any teacher is dependent on how successfully the students learn. It’s not about what the teacher does in the classroom. It’s about what the student does. Learning is not a linear function. It’s organic, and depends upon the whole of a student’s life experiences up to and including their time in our classrooms. Successful teachers are those who understand that learning does not wait to occur in the classroom, nor does it always happen as we think it might when we are presenting a lesson. Great teachers pay attention to what the students are doing and thinking both inside and outside the classroom. The successful teacher thinks about student learning all the time, and continually devises ways to get students closer to the content of the lesson.

As a result of this continual focus on student learning, the best teachers create some amazing experiences that help students gain the most benefit from the lesson content. This occasionally means deviating from the prepared script of a lesson, and teaching a lesson differently than the way it was taught last semester. As one of my great teachers once said in a classroom over in Harrelson Hall, “We have the outline of lessons in the syllabus. We may complete them all, or we may not. In this course, we will go as far as you are willing to go.” Great teachers take
students as far as they can go.

What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? My job is divided into two basic functions – teaching and research. As a researcher, my greatest satisfaction comes when a project significantly advances the knowledge base in my field. It is satisfying when my students see a practical and immediate use for my research.

With regard to teaching, the “teachable moment” is immensely satisfying. Whenever I cultivate interest in a lesson to the point where it is visibly evidence on the students’ faces and in their posture, that’s a good day at the office. I also find it satisfying when I see students apply the “triple transfer of learning.” That is, when students take subject matter that I taught them, and they teach it correctly to others, then I know they’ve learned the lesson well.

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