This article had me thinking today about all the ways college professors have historically and may still get in the way of student learning.
So, I wrote a quick little response. It’s just a start.
Forget your privilege. You went to college, for many years, and many brilliant people helped you get where you are today. You are a college professor because your doctoral advisor saw potential in you, taught you the wily ways of academia while guiding your research, your writing, and your learning. Doctoral programs are an amazing opportunity to read, talk, learn, grow. You had that opportunity. You are undoubtedly changed from the experience. Yes, it was hard. Yes, you made sacrifices. Yes, you had uncaring professors along the way. But you had an opportunity that many only dream of. Never forget that.
You have also earned your degrees. You’ve secured that much sought-after tenure track/tenured position. You have accomplished so much. But can you really not remember what those undergraduate days were like? The stress, the lack of sleep, the bad food, the no money, the roommate stuff?
Require expensive books. Particularly when you then assign only two chapters. Choose accessible readings. Provide multitudinous means of accessing readings. Assign readings intentionally and engage students in applied learning to grow their surface understanding from the reading. You’re the expert. Teach.
Assume. Unless you have trust with your students, you can only assume you know nothing about their lived experiences.
Use Grades As Punishment. Grades should reflect progress toward mastery of content. Period. That’s it. That’s what grades are. Communication about learning. If you use grades to threaten, punish, or coerce students, you’re doing it wrong. Docking a letter grade for a late assignment is unethical. Maybe try asking the student why the assignment was late, or better yet, have a relationship with the student that allows her to come to you first.
Office Hours Only. You do know your students have full lives outside of your course, right? They have jobs, maybe kids and families, other courses, commitments, responsibilities. If you set your office hours at the time convenient for you and you are inflexible in meeting with students outside of that time, you are communicating that your time is more valuable than your student’s.
Think Your Time Is More Valuable Than Your Students’. It’s not.
Expect Students To Improve Without Feedback. Feedback is teaching – it’s an iterative process and, as the teacher, your participation is required. If you hand back papers with letters or points on the top, your students have no information about how to improve. Assessing learning is feedback for you on your instruction, your assignment, your students’ learning. Provide transparent feedback so your students can progress toward mastery of the content. Yes, it takes more time – it’s also your job, do it well.
Fail To Teach. Additionally, if students address you inappropriately in an email, provide them feedback to improve. As a female professor, I invariably get emails addressed to Mrs. Newton. I reply with a “Hi, Student, my name is either Dr. Newton or Jen once we’ve actually met in person.” Guess what. That’s all it takes. Rather than being frustrated or writing a heated, ego-driven post on social media, provide feedback, tell students what you expect, allow them to meet your expectations.
Waste Students’ Time. Busy work, extraneous readings, anything that does not result in extending students’ depth and breadth of knowledge, is a waste of time. Sure, you can assign anything you want, you can give students 10 points for bringing a dog to class and they will beg, borrow, and steal to get a dog, but what are you teaching? That teachers are manipulative and that learning is at least secondary to control. Use their time wisely.
Shame or Condescend Students. To colleagues, friends, on social media. Ever. Every time I see one of those “It’s on the syllabus” memes, I die a little inside. You are imperfect. You forget about the occasional faculty meeting, deadline, oil change. Hopefully, there are people in your life who help you out. Maybe you could be that person for a student. Yes, they’re imperfect. So are you. Choose empathy.
Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??). I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.