Ask any college student, and you’ll surely hear a number of different reasons why they value their instructors: from the knowledge they possess, to the way they present course material, to the energy they bring to every class session. But what do they find most valuable in an instructor? Would they say the same things that you believe they’d say?

In recent polls, we asked both students and the Engaging Minds readership: What do students most value in an instructor? Take a look at the responses below:

What students most value in an instructor


With 32% of the student vote, “topic knowledge and expertise in the field” came in as the most-named and most-valued instructor attribute. How encouraging to consider that they truly do respect you for the knowledge, know-how, and experience that you provide to them.

Intriguingly, only 15% of the Engaging Minds respondents stated that they believed topic knowledge was the reason that students most valued instructors. Their top response? “Inspiration and enthusiasm,” at 33%. This appeared further down the students’ list, at 22%. However, if previous surveys are any indication, students certainly do hold inspiring instructors in high regard; when reflecting on their favorite instructors, they noted such qualities as “absolute enthusiastic passion,” described them as “upbeat and excited,” and praised their ability to “…push each student to think outside of the box and reach their full potential.”

Both students (27%) and Engaging Minds readers (30%) listed “engaging presentation/discussion skills” as a trait most valued by students. Indeed, the ability to present material in an engaging manner is an asset to any instructor—whether he or she is teaching English literature, astronomy, linear algebra, or hospitality management. If you’d like some advice to hone your skills in this area, review our previous posts on holding students’ attention and saying “goodbye” to the boring lecture. (Teach online? We also have tips for refining and improving your online presentations.)

Reviewing the rest of the results:

  • Eleven percent of students and thirteen percent of Engaging Minds readers ranked a willingness to be approached as the most essential trait of an instructor. We can see the connection to student success: If you’re approachable, students can feel more comfortable asking you to clarify the points that confuse or challenge them, and thereby be more likely to feel more confident in their ability to increase their mastery of the material.
  • Only 5% of students and 4% of Engaging Minds respondents ranked “creativity” as the most valuable asset an instructor has to offer their students. We don’t take this to mean that creativity is unimportant, but perhaps it’s simply one element in an instructor’s overall ability to engage the students in the classroom.


Instructors share their suggestions for supporting student success

As part of our survey, we also asked instructors: In your opinion, what is the most beneficial thing an instructor can offer to students? Here’s some of their advice:


  • Make sure they see your love for the subject. As Toni Choy of Kapiolani Community College (Honolulu, HI) puts it, “…show them your passion for what you teach. This will instill excitement and motivation in students.”
  • Demonstrate the relevance of your course material. Mary Vandendorpe of Lewis University (Romeoville, IL) suggests that instructors should “make some of each class relevant to the student.” Mike Baker of Vista College in Texas also notes that students also appreciate “…a realistic expectation of the career area.”
  • Lend students your support. This can be as straightforward as providing “encouragement, an ear, and a good example” [Scott Collins, Ventura Adult and Continuing Education (California)]. And as Wanda Forbes of the Adventist University of Health Sciences (Orlando, FL) writes, they’ll also appreciate your “open, caring attitude.”


Looking for additional ways to engage your students?

Hear what students had to say about what engages them in class, and read some of the top reasons students become disengaged. You may also be interested in the results of a previous survey, in which instructors shared the tools and techniques that foster student engagement in their classrooms.


What do you believe is the most beneficial thing an instructor can pass along to his or her students? Share in the comments.