Colleen Zajac is a Senior Copywriter at Cengage with a zest for learning. She loves rock climbing, mountain biking and coffee—not necessarily in that order.
What are the qualities of a great teacher?
Most of us can’t forget the instructor who taught our favorite class. The one who got the lessons to stick. That best instructor who encouraged us to dream, helped us grow and left a lasting impression.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week 2023, we polled faculty, students and Cengage employees about their favorite class. One of the most common themes we noticed: the instructor played a major role. In fact, they told us so many personal and moving stories about the instructors who made their favorite classes meaningful―and memorable―we just had to share.
(I’m not crying. You’re crying.)
The best instructors are passionate and engaging
“My favorite college course has been Environment, Justice, and Cities. It’s an urban planning class but I love the content and the way that the professor lays out the material. At first, I was hesitant because no computers or technology were allowed but he presents the information in a way that allows you to easily understand what you’ll be tested on while also learning. I have never had a class that I’ve been so interested in the content and the professor’s enthusiasm shines through every single day.”
Ava Ethridge, Student
“Current Social Problems was my favorite college course because it was so applicable to my day-to-day life. This was not a class that I considered to be difficult because I genuinely felt as though I benefitted so much from it. My professor really treated her students as equals and was a very politically correct speaker which taught me to be a more eloquent speaker and writer. Every week we read or watched or observed something new that struck social change in the past century which made me more engaged.”
Sama Abou Elkheir, Student
“My favorite college course was Introduction to Social Psychology. The class is very interactive and demonstration-heavy, but participation is up to the individual student, so you are not forced one way or the other. The instructor was really nice and engaging. The material was also fascinating as well.”
Sydney Stark, Student
“The capstone course consisted entirely of case studies that were presented each week by a different student group. It was always very engaging and instructive.”
Nicholas D. Peppes, Professor
They challenge us―because they know our potential
“The course I loved most was a mid-level English course called Major Authors. I signed up thinking it would be a broad overview of canonical authors, and hence, would be easy. Nope―the instructor got to choose one major author to focus on, and we studied F. Scott Fitzgerald that term. The class had only 10 students. I was in a bit of a ‘sophomore slump,’ and the notoriously tough professor called me out on it. With so few classmates in a discussion-based class, I HAD to step up and do the work. When I did, he made sure to call me out on that positive progress too. Being seen for my potential and challenged to reach it changed me in a fundamental way. I signed up for 3 more classes with that professor, worked hard the next two years, and went on to study Fitzgerald in graduate school. When speaking to friends or family beginning college, I now always advise them not to shy away from the hard professors/courses!”
Rabon Wilson, Senior Account Executive II at Cengage
“I had a very uninspiring prof for Mathematics (Calc I) but worked hard and passed. However, for Calc II, I signed up with another prof who unfortunately had a reputation as a difficult person―very detail-oriented, etc., but what a night-and-day difference! She was actually inspiring, took questions, had great office hours, explained things in detail. I made sure to take Calc III and IV from her and never looked back. Great profs help one to unlock the potential to understand the material in depth―not just gain a passing familiarity with it.”
Mark Portelli, Release Engineering Manager at Cengage
“I was an Electrical Engineering major and studied mostly Science and Math. But the course that probably had the most impact on me was the Freshman Writing course.
I thought I already knew how to write effectively (all my HS teachers had been complimentary). But Professor Patrik had a much higher standard, and my papers were always returned covered in red ink. I was determined to get an A, so I had to absorb Prof Patrik’s teachings. She taught me to write succinctly, and how to write for maximum impact. She later helped me obtain a graduate fellowship grant by editing my proposals.
For me the experience was all about the professor’s intensity, and I still think about her lessons every time I write ANYTHING. (She would not approve of me capitalizing words like that, however. )”
Vincent Nicotina, Senior Manager, Content Architecture & Analysis at Cengage
“The best class I took as an undergrad was a research class for Journalism/Communications majors. It was a small group of 12 for seniors–a brilliant, crusty professor taught it. He took no prisoners but taught us how to dig deeper to find the appropriate angles for stories, to verify all data and to leave none of the proverbial stones unturned. A lot of twists and turns in our final project taught me to expect the unexpected. Great preparation for truth in writing and for life.”
Tricia Hempel, Senior Content Manager at Cengage
Their most valuable lessons go beyond academics
“I wanted to take an elective that was manageable during the summer session and was advised to take Environmental Science. Science is not my favorite class by any means but thought ‘Why not?’ The instructor was amazing with incorporating a very diverse classroom. There [were] interactive assessments and no class was the same as the last. One day we were in lecture based with challenge board activities in the front of the classroom, the next was hands-on building our own worm farms, a field trip to the local water company to see how the process works, and exams out in the courtyard. It was my favorite class throughout my college experience, and the instructor was my favorite.”
Melinda Genter, Regional Customer Success Manager at Cengage
“My Bod My Health. Using active, socially engaged approaches we examined topics such as resilience and stress, social image, healthy eating, social activism, substance use, healthy relationships, and human sexuality. All of our work was group-based and discussion based. For our final project, we specifically chose one aspect of our life we wanted to better ourselves in. I chose eating. The project helped me get on track with eating three meals a day and documenting it. I finished the class and felt like a new person.”
Chloe Adamowicz, Student
Simply put, their classes are the most fun
“My senior year, I took a class called Video Games, Gender and Sexuality―it was only a 12-person seminar, and it was a super tight-knit class. The professor brought in games for us to play live and discuss, and kept the environment fun, exciting and supportive. It was probably the coolest course I took in college, and it was a really fun turn away from the classical English canon I spent most of my time studying. That class even prompted me to do one-on-one study with the professor for my final semester because I fell so head over heels with the subject material!”
Bailey Hull, Marketing Copywriter at Cengage
“The one class that stood out to me the most was Consumer Behavior. It was just fascinating. We were given a product that we had to create a presentation on what customers we should market to while conducting research to back up our recommendation. The fun twist was, we were competing against another student with the same product. She also had the class give us feedback after each of our presentations, which was constructive and beneficial. Honestly, any class with this Marketing professor was fantastic. She just had this essence about her that you automatically knew you were going to learn something, she was going to push you to be the best you could be and also give you some tough love along the way.”
Robbie Adamson, Senior Marketing Coordinator at Cengage
“My first semester doing a radio class. Within a week, we were on the radio and doing hands-on learning. It was fun and informative.”
Brian Gerber, Faculty
“My favorite college course ever was my introductory CS class (CSE 1010). I really was interested in the material and enjoyed doing what I love through fun coding assignments.”
Vishnu Murali, Student
“As a Biomedical Sciences major it goes without a doubt saying that my favorite course is a Science course, namely Microbiology! I did research in the Microbiology field for all 4 years in undergrad and is something I enjoy learning about. This class was so fun and memorable because the professor would use cute little stickers on slides to point out high-yield information and was sweet and generous. I took this course during COVID, so my professor was very understanding and adapted to the online learning situation very well. She was considerate and extended deadlines if need be. She held office hours and tutoring sessions by herself on Zoom, which made it that much more personal as usually TAs do these extra help hours. One thing I liked is that she kept her slides short but talked more about topics in detail during presentations. This may be biased because I am a Science geek/nerd, however, microbes are all around us and it is only fair we learned about the good and the bad and how they affect our lives every day!”
Chaitali Botcha, Student
“Most memorable course = Intro to Speech. I was painfully shy when I took this required course my sophomore year in college. The teacher made it fun and enjoyable. I ended up getting a minor in Communications just because I wanted to take every course she taught!”
Christiana Bevier, Faculty
The best instructors understand the value of laughter
“Definitely one of my British Literature Survey courses. The participation was outstanding, and throughout the readings, they dug in and contributed well to the discussions. Plus, that class laughed so much that we all left the classroom in a better mood than when we entered. I so believe in the importance of laughter in education.”
Ginny Dow, Department Chair – English
“I had a law professor for my Business Law course who was unforgettable. The class had a reputation for being extremely difficult (low pass rate). What was unexpected was how incredibly engaging he was with such hard material, and how much I learned in that class that helped me both in life and work. Some of the most memorable things he did: delivered mid-term and final exams to the tune of Star Wars Darth Vader theme (while wearing a black cape); pretending to saw students in half to teach the difference between assault and battery; using funny stories to help us work through tough law concepts. I’ve never forgotten him.”
Rebecca Ritchie, Career Sales Leader at Cengage
They shape who we become
“The most memorable class I took in college was on the History of New England. It inspired me to become a history professor myself!”
Robin O’Sullivan, Lecturer
“I was working on my graduate work in 1998 at Mississippi State University and had the opportunity to take several courses under Dr. Larry Anderson. Online at MSU was such a new concept at that time and there was no real guide as to what a ‘good’ online course should look like. Dr. Anderson challenged his students to grow, not just in our course work, but as leaders. He encouraged every one of his students to watch motivational videos (Zip Ziggler for one) and read inspirational and motivational books― ‘Who Moved My Cheese,’ ‘The Greatest Salesman,’ ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ are some that I still remember to this day. He really engaged with his students in the online environment, I can only imagine taking a face-to-face class with him had to be even better.
When I started teaching online, his style of teaching was the way I knew I wanted to be in my online classes. Connect with students, try to get to know them as people and continue to motivate them when they appear to be struggling but don’t take yourself too seriously―show them that you have a sense of humor and are a real person.”
Elizabeth Spooner, Lead Online Instructor
They give us the confidence to get out of our comfort zones
“I enjoyed my speech class. I was a nervous wreck and felt that I would be horrible. My instructor praised me and it boosted my confidence. I found a new love―speaking and teaching others!”
Angela Nino, Faculty
“My favorite college course was my Entomology class! It was so cool to learn about all these different types of bugs, also a little scary to be honest. We got to watch and observe a caterpillar turn into a moth and see the cycle of how they grow. It was also a super great class because I could tell the teacher was super passionate about the topic she was teaching, which made it even better to learn about.”
Lauren Sroda, Student
They keep it real
”I was an English major, but one of the most impactful courses for me was one I took to fulfill a Gen-Ed requirement that was based around Ethics, Religion and Biology (I wish I could remember what it was called). The course was taught by 3 professors together: A medical doctor, a Philosophy professor, and a catholic priest. We had the most fascinating discussions and so many different voices and perspectives were shared. It stands out to me because never before did I see professors disagreeing with each so openly, but also so amicably, especially on topics like abortion and homosexuality in schools. The students were all engaged in both the subject matter and the discussions we had, and all voices were encouraged to participate and debate. It helped me learn how to think critically, to consider alternative perspectives, and also to challenge some of my own views.
Megan Garvey DiGangi, Senior Content Manager at Cengage
“Not course, rather one professor who I’ve tried to take the way he taught and make it mine. The professor had a unique style, one in which I bonded to. He was funny, strict, annoying sometimes, would drop curse words when appropriate. Some may feel that he was inappropriate in his teaching style, yet in reality, he broke down the fourth wall. The wall that separates students and faculty.
He was still ‘the boss.’ Yet, he made class more than showing up and serving time. His standards were high, yet again, would not get caught up in the minutia of academic life. He made teaching real.”
Hal Kingsley, Professor
They make the content relatable
“High school Physics!! Because my teacher was so good at explaining hard-to-understand concepts and made it relatable…”
Sandy Keeter, Program Manager and Professor
“My most memorable course was Microeconomics. It was difficult but very relatable to what you need to understand regarding economics.”
Randy Hollifield, Instructor
The best instructors form true connections
“My favorite college course ever was Intro to Business Law. Aside from it being difficult to reach this professor, the course material was very thorough and provided real world experiences to relate to. Majority of the information was provided via lecture, emphasizing the importance of coming to class and staying engaged. This professor encouraged questions and different perspectives that helped during the analysis of case studies and legislation. What made this class memorable was getting to know the professor and my classmates through their ideals and understanding of business and law. The instructor was definitely part of the reason I enjoyed this class, as they were very personable. What made this instructor great was the utilization of real-world experiences and the lecture carrying more weight than the readings or assigned homework.”
Shaloun Mims, Student
“My favorite college course ever was my Creative Writing Workshop Class in Poetry. I loved this course because I am a poet and was able to enhance my writing skills through these workshops. Not only that but sharing my work and getting feedback and having a published author/poet teach this class made me respect her all the more. Though this class was fully online, this was the only class I looked forward to during the pandemic. I wanted to take this course in person, but the professor was so lively and amazing and approachable, it felt as though we were in person.”
Sasha Smith, Student
They prepare us for the future
“My favorite college course has to be statistics because it’s so eye-opening to study a subject that has so much real-world application. Even though the class was entirely online, my instructor kept everyone engaged by incorporating data analysis projects instead of traditional quizzes and assignments. It took the pressure off of scoring perfect grades on an exam, and allowed me to focus on how my research could actually be important one day.”
Srija Chatterjee, Student
“My favorite college course has to be Calculus 2. I say this was one of my favorite classes, as it was the class that assured me that math was one of my favorite subjects due to how well my professor taught the class, and online too! Additionally, the way his exams were formed was perfect since they were a good reference on learning the material he was teaching creating a solid foundation for future Math courses I had to be enrolled in. 100% one of my favorite professors, and [some] of my favorite material to learn from.”
Maya Rana, Student
They teach us to apply the skills we learn
“I liked classes with labs because it made everything make sense based on practice.”
Wisam Bukaita, Professor
“Physics―my teacher had an experiment prepared for the beginning of class every time we met. It was exciting to see what he was going to have each time. He related it to the lesson and we were able to actively participate in the experiment.”
Dr. Jacque Taylor, Associate Professor
“The most memorable graduate-level class that I took was Italian Renaissance Art, which helped me apply my past coursework in English and history to a new context. The most memorable undergraduate class that I took was Fitzgerald and Hemingway–I very much liked reading Fitzgerald–Hemingway not so much. The instructor helped me make the transition from high-school writing to university-level writing.”
Timothy Jones, Adjunct Professor
The best instructors bring out our love of learning
“My Materials for Civil Engineering Lab course was arguably my favorite. This course was highly interactive and many of the experiments allowed for exploring a wide variety of materials. Additionally, the course professor [was] extremely kind and understanding. The dynamic of the course and professor made the learning experience very digestible and enjoyable.”
Gech Horng Huy, Student
“As someone who is creative at heart, I LOVED accounting; our instructor was able to make it all come alive with real-life examples and cases. I remember we did a project where we had to set up a business and do the books including figuring out how to price something you were selling. I learned so much that I still use today both personally and professionally.”
Kat Johansen, Executive Marketing Manager, Sales Engagement at Cengage
“Intro psych, social psych, comparative psych – the content was fascinating and I liked the professors.”
Alishia Huntoon, Professor
“I love my Intermediate Accounting course. It was the Fall of 2023 when I took the course. I had a bit of a grasp on accounting, but there were a lot of topics/formulas that I did not understand. When [I] informed my instructor, she took the time to help me understand the material. She would spend time right after our class drawing diagrams and making up scenarios that would explain different topics. She took the time to make sure that I truly knew what I was doing by asking questions. I would also go to all of her office hours, especially when something would come up that I did not understand. My Intermediate Accounting professor not only made me feel comfortable with accounting, but she also showed me how to love my passions even more by being dedicated to helping me succeed.”
Daisy Annan, Student
“My favorite college course I have had so far would definitely be Business Law because that is the field I want to go into for my career. I love this class because it just reiterated for me why I chose law and pushed me to keep going after my goals as I truly love law.”
Ashley Alaniz, Student
The best instructors never stop inspiring us
“I was an English major, but my favorite class was one that I literally signed up for because it fit in my schedule and checked off a “Gen Ed.” The name of the course was Medical Ethics and it was taught by an adjunct professor who was also a nurse. I think most of the other students were in the nursing program, honestly. But I LOVED this class. For one thing, in addition to examining interesting case studies, the instructor also had us reading classic philosophical essays about morality and decision-making. I loved the synthesis of medicine and culture and philosophy. The instructor was also tremendous and so adept at leading challenging and spirited class discussions. I’ve never felt more challenged or satisfied in a classroom and I think about this course all the time.”
Mary Convertino, Learning Designer at Cengage
“Algebra class―my professor Mr. Embrey was amazing.
I had failed Algebra twice at my former institution and feared taking this course for the third time. Mr. Embrey changed my life. Mr. Embrey explained that although failing a course can be discouraging, it’s important to remember that setbacks and challenges are a natural part of the learning process. Slowly, Mr. Embrey brought out the mathematician in me. Mr. Embrey’s teaching approach and qualities that made him an effective teacher were his ability to explain complex concepts clearly and understandably, his enthusiasm and passion for the subject, his willingness to provide individualized support and assistance to students, and his ability to create a positive and engaging classroom environment.
Ultimately, Mr. Embrey was an inspirational teacher who inspired and motivated his students to learn and achieve their goals. He created a positive and supportive learning environment where I felt valued and respected. I believe it’s important to recognize and appreciate the hard work and dedication of good teachers like Mr. Embrey, as they play a crucial role in shaping the academic and personal growth of their students.
Mr. Embrey taught me that there is always time to improve your understanding of a subject or your grades. With effort, dedication, and the proper support, you can succeed in College Algebra. Thirty-five years later, I remember walking out of class, looking back at him, and hearing him thank me. I stopped and asked. ‘why are you thanking me, Mr. Embrey?’ He responded, ‘I also learned much from you this semester.’ I don’t know who was prouder of me, myself or Mr. Embrey.”
Ann M. Walenski, Instructional Designer and Faculty
We celebrate you for Teacher Appreciation Week 2023
We know being an educator is beyond challenging, but it’s also extremely rewarding. These are just a sample of the countless stories that prove it. From your current and past students, peers and all learners everywhere, we appreciate you.
Thank you for teaching our favorite classes. Thank you for maintaining the qualities of a great teacher. And, thank you for all you do.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week 2023.
Helping students succeed is why you do what you do, and students appreciate it every day. To understand the impact you make on students’ lives, browse the series: “Why I’m Thankful to My Instructors.”