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The first in a series of articles in which academics muse on the art of teaching

A passion for teaching

"Passionate and uncompromising dedication and commitment. Sparkling intelligence and enthusiasm. The greatest professor I ever had."

"He is the most passionate teacher I have ever had in my life. He flies around the room and makes every lecture enjoyable to attend."

Robert Citino, a military historian at Eastern Michigan University, attracted 26 pages of comments such as these to become RateMyProfessors' Number 1 Professor in the Nation last year.

The word "passion" features regularly in students' descriptions of their best teachers - both the passion tutors have for their subject and the passion they summon for sharing their learning with others.

It's a word that is often lost in the jungle of bureaucracy or the demands of the research assessment exercise. And in the midst of both, it can be all too easy to lose sight of the privilege and responsibility of transforming the lives of a generation of students.

With the advent of university tuition fees, the National Student Survey, websites such as RateMyProfessors and a growing focus on the student experience, being a good teacher is rightly being brought centre stage.

Here, Tom Palaima of the University of Texas at Austin opens our series with a cri de coeur about the importance of teaching. Although some details of his essay are specific to his location and situation, the story of the challenges in imparting knowledge to new generations is universal.

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