Defining Your Own Teaching Goals


Consider the following teaching goals and decide for yourself which are most relevant to the material you teach and the role you want to play in your students’ intellectual and personal development.


Every aspect of your teaching will be shaped by the role you want to play in the mentorship and development of your students. Every nuts-and-bolts teaching strategy, even the most practical advice about lecturing or writing exams, serves the goal of helping you become the kind of teacher who has inspired you.

Below are some examples of some of the highest teaching goals to remind you that great teaching is more than a handful of teaching tricks strung together with modest aims and sufficient expertise in your field.

Keep these goals in mind as you continue through the practical advice in our Resources.

Inspire Students

Nothing pushes students to do their best work like a professor who takes pride not in his or her own accomplishments, but in helping others realize their potential. “

—Jason Dent, Philosophy, ’05

Your effort and enthusiasm as a teacher directly influence students’ commitment to your course and interest in your field. Great teachers inspire students by demonstrating belief in their students’ abilities and by providing the support students need to meet challenging academic demands.

Facilitate Mastery of a Field

"In choosing my area of concentration I decided to combine two of my interests, sports and medicine, and study sports medicine. Initially I was just mildly curious about the field. However, after taking a class on exercise and physiology by Dr. Anne Friedlander and talking with her outside of class, my interest became more than just academic. She opened my eyes to the practicality and numerous applications of sports medicine. In a few weeks I will begin a sports medicine internship with a grassroots organization that encourages older individuals to maintain health through an active lifestyle. Thanks to Dr. Friedlander I am learning more about sports medicine and enjoying opportunities to apply that knowledge in everyday life."

—Angela Markham, Human Biology (Sports Medicine), ’05

Your classroom is a training ground not only for future study in your field but also for many aspects of life. Great teachers help students master the fundamentals of their subject matter, which will pay off both for advanced study in their field and for students’ everyday understanding of the world.

Mentor Young Intellects

"I attribute a great deal of my intellectual growth at Stanford to my advisor’s mentorship and guidance. I came to her last year as someone who was completely intimidated by economics. But from the first day of my research assistantship she pushed me to challenge myself academically and personally. For the first time, I began to understand what it meant to set high goals for myself without fear."

 —Felicia Estrada, Public Policy, ’04

Long after individual facts and phrases are forgotten, your students will carry with them the intellectual skills you help them develop, from critical to creative thinking. Great teachers prepare students for lifelong learning.

Help Students Find Their Voice

"Although I had been very outspoken during high school, initially it was very hard to find my 'voice' at Stanford. I think my breakthrough came during an African history class. The professor showed that he valued our class participation both in the grading of the course and by encouraging every student to speak at least once during the quarter. He received our comments in such a nonjudgmental way that after a couple weeks I felt much more confident speaking up in all my classes."

—Andrea Snavely, International Relations, ’04

Once you’ve helped students find something they want to say, you need to help them find a way to say it. Great teachers give students the skills to communicate effectively and the confidence to express what they think.

Help Students Articulate and Follow Their Values

"It’s all too easy for students to think the learning process is limited to lectures, readings, or problem sets. It takes a great professor or TA to take course material outside the context of the classroom and remind us that we study in order to better the world. I remain impressed with instructors who take time to do this in traditional classes, not just those labeled as 'service-learning courses.'"

—Felicia Estrada, Public Policy, ’04

One of the main goals of higher education is to help students figure out who they are and how they can be of service to their community. Great teachers help students understand the social responsibilities of their field and the social impact of their choices.