Teaching Honors

Teaching an honors class is what education should be. The discussions are stimulating; the work is challenging, both for faculty and students; and the classroom atmosphere is lively, engaged, and supportive.

A major role of being an honors faculty member is close mentoring, both inside and outside the classroom. Honors students often enjoy meeting and socializing with their instructors outside the class setting, in fact. So you might think of hosting a pizza evening at Shakespeare’s or arranging an informal get-together at your home. Many honors faculty assign office conferences as part of their syllabus requirements.

It is very important to set high expectations for your Honors students and to do so at the beginning of the semester. The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) provides the following advice: “In Honors classes, it might be helpful to immediately convey to students that the course will be enriching and challenging; that it will spend considerable time honing the students’ abilities in critical thinking, analytical writing, close reading, cogent speaking, and attentive listening; and that students are, to a large extent, responsible for the quality of the learning experience that they will have. They will be expected to participate thoughtfully and fully in all aspects of the class.”

Here is what some of our favorite honors faculty have to say about their experiences teaching honors:

“When we talk about the experience of taking classes in the MU Honors College, we tend to focus (rightly) on what Honors students get out of the small class sizes, the intimate discussions, and the increased opportunities for critical thinking. We do not talk enough about how fulfilling this is for the folks teaching these classes. I never feel more alive than when I am in front of a group of eager Honors students. The questions they ask and the insights they bring to every reading, lecture, and class discussion amaze me more and more each semester. I have been indescribably fortunate to grow closer to the MU Honors College over the past several years, and as a result my Honors students, many of whom I remain connected to well after our semester together has ended.” Doug Valentine, Sociology

“I have been lucky enough to teach both a relatively large honors class and a series of honors tutorials. I have always been impressed by the students’ commitment to learning and their ability to connect with course material. I have had the pleasure of including honors students as volunteers and interns on my research projects, and their enthusiasm helps keep me motivated. Knowing that I have these young scholars interested and engaged in the work is a wonderful way to hold myself accountable to our shared research goals. As of the fall 2020 semester, my project examining the 1918 flu in Missouri (which began two years ago as research mentorship with an honors student) has proven more valuable in the light of COVID-19. I can honestly say that this particular project would not have been nearly as developed if not for the participation of undergraduate honors students over the years.” Carolyn Orbann, Health Sciences

“The fun, and the challenge, is in teaching students who want to know why: not just “why did the Spartans win the Peloponnesian War?” but “why are you asking us to read this text?” or “why do you assign weekly journal entries?” Honors students are especially good at those “why” questions. Their curiosity and intellectual engagement make every class period an adventure, and make me a better teacher.” —David Schenker, Ancient Mediterranean Studies