My teaching approach part 1

For many years of teaching, I believe that there are three factors that determine students’ success: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Motivation. As teachers, if we can address these three factors, we can help students to learn and develop the appropriate skills to be successful in their career.

When students go to college, their attitudes and motivation are key factors for their learning. With proper attitudes, they determine what, when, and how they will learn. Motivation is the critical factor in guiding the direction, intensity, and quality of their learning. When students set their learning goals, know what they want, expect to succeed, and receive strong support from their teachers, they will do well.

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I always require students to have a career plan and educational goals. Students must know what they want to do with their lives and what knowledge and skills they need to build their career. Not all students go to college knowing what they want or have a clear direction. They all have vague ideas that often are unrealistic. Without appropriate guidance, some get confused or even lost. A typical first-day of class for first-year students often start with conversations between myself and the students. For example: “ Why do you go to college?” – “Because all of my friends are going.” Or “Because my parents want me to go.”

“What do you want to learn in college?” – “I do not know, anything that is not difficult.” Or “I want to learn Computer.”

“What do you plan to do with your college education? – “Get a degree.” Or “Getting a job.”

“What kind of job? – “Any job that makes a lot of money.” Or “A job at Google.”

“Then what do you do after getting a job? – “Buy a car.” Or “Having a girlfriend (Or Boyfriend)” Or “Travel the world.”

“What is next?” – “I do not know, maybe getting married.” Or “Why do you keep asking difficult questions?”

Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions students will ever make. It impacts everything in their lives. It also determines their future, where they will work, where they will live, etc. Selecting a good career can be the difference between having a good life, filled with satisfaction and happiness or a life filled with dissatisfaction and disappointment. For many years of teaching, I found that there are only very few students know exactly what they want in life. Most do not know and often put very little effort into selecting a proper career without understanding the consequences. It is common for a majority to choose a career simply because their parents want them to or follow friends’ selection. Some even focus only on high pay, prestige, or trendy without knowing themselves and end up feeling stuck deep in something they do not do well and unhappy with their choices. Having proper career planning is the key to choosing an occupation that will lead to many years of fulfillment and satisfaction.

My question is how many professors would address this issue when students start to go to college? Many colleagues told me that that is NOT their job as their job is to teach, not to give advice. Others said that is the job of the career counselors. I do NOT agree because without clear direction and proper educational goals, it would be difficult to motivate students to learn.

I often explained to my students: “If you do not know yourselves, this is the time for you to do reflection to know what you want. If you do not explore multiple careers and select the one that fits your interests, then you are wasting your time. If you do not find a proper career now, then when would you? And if you do not have a career plan and educational goals to set the direction of your studying, you may get lost, just drifting from one class to others. You only have a short time of four years to select your career and seize the opportunities, If you are driven, know what you want, have a goal and direction, you can easily go through all of these college courses and be successful. After all, the direction, efforts, and motivation you put into your learning process will determine how successful you are.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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