Pandering vs. Warmth in The Classroom

Robert Bruner (at the U. of Virginia's Darden graduate school) has probably written more good material about teaching than any other currently active financial academic. He has another excellent (and better yet, short) one on SSRN titled 'Do you Expect Me to Pander to the Students?' The Cold Reality of Warmth in Teaching.

In it, Bruner answers a colleague who thinks that being "warm" to the students is equivalent to pandering to them. He discusses how the two things are quite different, and how being "warm" in the classroom can significantly aid in the learning process. Here's the abstract

Many instructors struggle with the role of rapport in teaching. For some, the response is a cool and distant teaching style. This essay argues that a style of appropriate warmth can promote student learning. It offers definitions, examples, and implications for the instructor.

From a purely cynical (i.e. getting better teaching evaluations without much more work) perspective, being a little warmer in the classroom helps a lot. I've found that when students think you care about them, they'll forgive you just about anything (including tough assignments, difficult tests, and high standards for grading); if they think you don't care, they'll forgive you nothing. Of course, warmth can be faked, but it's a costly signal. If you're like some of my former colleagues, it's just too hard to fake it, since they'd rather be done with the class so they can get back to their research. .

Since I'm accused of always thinking in terms of quotes, here are two to leave you with:

"The secret to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made" - Jean Giraudoux

"Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that he looks forward to the ride" - unknown, but I'll claim it if no one wants it. .

HT to Jim Mahar at for pointing out the article.