Here’s a paper, just published in Personality and Individual Differences, that explores students’ concepts of the ideal professor.
From the abstract:
Despite intuitions that the ideal teacher has a particular set of non-cognitive characteristics, there is little research investigating such issues. The current two studies investigate students’ descriptions of “ideal” instructor personality using the Five-Factor Model of personality. Both absolute personality preferences (certain traits are universally desired) and relative personality preferences (certain traits are desired relative to students’ own level of the trait) are examined among 137 first year mathematics students (Study 1) and 378 first year psychology students (Study 2). Students provided Big Five personality ratings for themselves, their actual instructor, and their ideal instructor. Supporting the absolute preference hypothesis, students rated their ideal instructor as having significantly higher levels than both themselves and the general population on all five personality domains (except for openness in Study 1), with particularly large effect sizes for emotional stability and conscientiousness. Supporting the relative preference hypothesis, students also rated their ideal instructor as having a similar Big Five profile to themselves.
As someone who teaches at the university level I found this quite interesting. In Piaget’s theory of development, teenagers and adults are in the formal operations stage. Piaget describes a kind of formal operations ego-centrism, where the individual compares abstract notions of perfection with reality and finds reality wanting. For example, adolescents will construct a notion of what perfect parents would be like, and then compare their real parents with the abstraction. Any guesses on how the real parents come out in this comparison?
So it seems that our students have ideas about the perfect instructor and we actual teachers suffer by comparison.
Does having an instructor who matches your ideal help your performance? Here is what this study found:
if their actual instructor’s personality was similar to their ideal instructor’s personality, students showed greater educational satisfaction (but not higher performance self-efficacy nor academic achievement).