My Ten Commandments of Teaching

Dr. Yale Patt


September 10, 2001

ASEE chapter at UT Austin.

My Ten Commandments of Teaching (Dr.Yale Patt)

  1. Know the material
  2. Have the desire to teach
  3. Genuinely respect your students
  4. Set the bar high - students will measure up
  5. Emphasize understanding, de-emphasize memorization
  6. Take responsibility for what is covered
  7. Don't even try to cover the material
  8. Encourage interruptions don't be afraid to digress
  9. Don't forget those three little words
  10. Reserved for future use. (can't help it ,I am an engineer)

Dr.Patt started out by saying that there are three possible topics for his talk today:

    1. Distance learning and its affiliated problems
    2. Ten commandments
    3. Are there any questions

He explains that as no audience is alike, no outline of the talk can be made prior to meeting the crowd. He tailors his lectures to the students he has in front of him. Dependent on the knowledge and the input he gets from the audience he changes his lecture. 

The discussion started with the audience asking for the explanation of the 7th commandment.  Dr.Patt sets out in his characteristic style and states that there is no commandment, which reads "though shalt cover the material."  Too many teachers are preoccupied with how much material they should cover.  They are very ambitious and will try to squeeze lots of material into a short period of time.  However, Dr. Patt indicates that it is far more important to ensure that your message gets across.  It is better to cover a small amount of material well, than a large amount of material poorly. 

The next question was about the 9th commandment: What are those 3 little words? Those three little words read: I don't know.  Don't be afraid to say that you don't know.  Don't try to cover your lack of knowledge.  You will only propagate errors.  Besides propagating errors you will loose your credibility, as there is always somebody in the audience who will know.  

In explanation of the 4th commandment, Dr. Patt states that you can give students a lot of work.  Students will do the work as long as you make it interesting and not tedious.  Love for the topic and high grades do not necessarily go together.  Make sure your students learn and that they learn it well. In the end they will value the learning experience more than the grade given to them.  

Questions from the audience: 

Dr. Patt was asked if he accounts for differences in knowledge. The example was given of a M.S. student and a Ph.D. student both taking the same class. It was posed that the Ph.D. student would have an unfair advantage. Should they be graded differently?

Dr. Patt answers with a firm no. His counter question is: Where would it stop? Should we account for morning people vs. evening people? Grading should be fair; goals should be high but attainable. 

Will you continue explaining a topic if only one student out of 50 does not get it? And how do you know everybody is getting it?

Dr. Patt answered that you will never know if everybody understands what you are teaching.  Not unless you give pop-quizzes every 30 minutes.  He feels he can read the crowd and knows when eyes are glazing over.  He agrees that he can be fooled. Furthermore he states that it is imperative to make clear that asking questions is okay. You will not get many questions the first day, but showing your audience that no question is stupid instills confidence and opens up communication. 

How do you establish what the fundamentals are? What are fundamentals?

Dr. Patt said that of course no such thing as universal fundamentals exists.  They are subjective and will be readjusted according to the situation. 

Should we get rid of grading?

Dr. Yale Patt would instate 3 grades: A+, passing, and why did you bother to sign up. 

Would you choose a person with five Bs or a person with one A+ and four C-?

Dr. Patt said that it depends on the job.  If talent is needed, then choose the A+ person. If discipline is needed, choose the B person.  

Why did you become a professor?

Dr. Patt likes to see the lights going on in student's eyes.  He likes teaching and thinks it is a great job!