Comparing Teaching Roles: Instructor vs. Student Perspectives

A photo of a male teacher standing in front of a chalkboard with calculus equations written on it.

While teaching involves multiple skills such as leadership, facilitation, organization, and management, much of what teachers do in the classroom is built on relationships with students. These relationships are integral to teaching and learning and while much of the relationship-building that goes on in a classroom may be intuitive, this article asks you to think more deeply about how you build and maintain relationships among and with students in your classroom.

Students and instructors often have different perspectives on what makes an effective college classroom. Stephen Meyers (2009), a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University, breaks these different perspectives down into two categories: the instructional role and the personal role. The instructional role is the outcome of academic knowledge, classroom preparation, and clarity of delivery. The personal role is characterized by concern and regard for students, availability to students, and personal interaction.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, students often favor the personal role over the instructional role while instructors favor the instructional role. The following table lists traits of master teachers from both student and faculty perspectives: 

Five Traits of Master Teachers

Student Perspective

Faculty Perspective

1. Realistic expectations, fair

1. Knowledgeable about topic

2. Knowledgeable about topic

2. Enthusiastic about teaching

3. Display understanding

3. Promote critical thinking

4. Approachable, personable

4. Well prepared for class

5. Respectful towards students 

5. Approachable, personable

*Table adapted from Buskist et al., 2002.

Improving the personal role of your teaching is not just “touchy-feely” stuff, because the learning climate can have a significant impact on how students learn in the classroom. Take a moment and consider your own learning experiences. What were the most memorable and why? How did the personal role influence your learning?

Getting to know your students and letting them get to know you can be a new experience for both of you. Find your comfort level with the personal role, then reveal a bit more of your humanity. Perhaps you like cooking a certain cuisine or you are taking classes as a pastry chef. When students start to see your humanity, they start to feel more connected, and more willing to engage. Even their academic performance will benefit from the experience.

You can build upon this personal role by even incorporating your life experience into your lectures and classroom activities. One of the best ways to encourage students to understand the content is to provide examples that are “professionally personal.” There are examples from graduate classes, books, and experiences gained over time that will benefit student learning in your course. Use these kinds of examples often, from the beginning of the course to the end. Doing this helps students see the immediate relevancy of course content and demonstrates how what students learn extends far beyond the walls of the classroom.

On the flip side of this personal role is getting to know your students on a more personal level. Gender, race, age, work experience, military experience, birthplace, parental status, employment status, political affiliation, and life experiences of students in the class influence how students think about what is being taught. Consider surveying students at the beginning about characteristics such as their gender, race, age, employment status, parental status, marital status, etc. Do keep FERPA guidelines in mind when surveying for this information though.

Knowing characteristics of students can help guide the selection of examples for course materials. If the students, for example, are primarily young, single, and without children, using examples based on experiences being a parent or being married may not work well for them. If instructors must explain the significance of a simple example, the example is likely an ineffective teaching tool for that class! Be as aware as possible about the characteristics of the students in the class. Be sensitive to their perspectives as examples are being prepared. Keep in mind though, as much as student characteristics vary, there are certain principles to teaching to what students have in common.


Buskist, W., Sikorski, J., Buckley, T., & Saville, B.K. (2002). Elements of master teaching. In Davis, S.F. & Buskist, W. (Eds) The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilburt J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer (pp. 27-39). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.

Meyers, S. (2009). Do your students care whether you care about them? College Teaching, 57(4), 205-210.