I’ll dive in and continue our discussion that we started the other day by the parent and the student about a) why some professors seemingly refuse to help; and b) why some professors suck sometimes.
I received some great comments on that post and here are some comments from Twitter:
From @Joeymom: As a prof, I agree. Some profs suck at teaching. Many are trained in their field, but have zero training in education.
From @PopoagieForever: This is sometimes true and sometimes a sign of a lazy or unqualified student.
From @CatalyzedLeader: That’s because 95% of doctoral programs involve no TEACHER TRAINING! I sought it out to make sure I was educated.
I love it, and all pretty true!
Now, on to the continued discussion…
3. Some profs are new or are trying new things.
The student was actually correct that many professors are trained in their field, but not necessarily trained to teach (hence, the comments above). But either way, when profs are very new or are seasoned and suddenly taking some risks (Ahem… me… right now), they may go through a period where they aren’t as strong of an educator. That said, they should still be helpful.
I happen to have an undergrad degree in Post-Secondary Ed. I was drilled on crafting lesson plans, delivering those lesson plans in front of real life classrooms, and honing them. At the grad level, I took exactly one class on how to teach and I taught as a grad assistant. I had some intermittent training during that time–not a ton. Thank goodness for that undergrad, though. I use those teachings every single day.
Right now, I’m back in the classroom after a year of leave, and although I’ve taught for 14 years with three national teaching awards under my belt, I might as well be new again. I’ve had a lot of philosophical changes since writing #STNT and I’m completely rebuilding my curriculum. I’ve been very transparent with my students, telling them that they are getting someone who has changed. I’m not as polished as when I could pull my finely tuned materials and walk in with confidence. That’s what happens when you reflect, regroup, and reinvent.
New profs or evolving profs like myself may have moments of suck on their way to hopefully being amazing. Students can communicate with professors and voice what is working and what isn’t: My students have said, “We liked that activity we did today. Keep it! The terms seem a lot clearer now.”
Of course I ask my students, “What did you think of that? Did you like what we just did? Or did it suck? You can tell me–I can handle it.”
I realize students are afraid of backlash. But a professor is never going to know what is going wrong unless you voice it. Also, technically, a prof can’t penalize you for an opinion. If you do strong work, you do strong work. That will always speak for itself.
If you have ideas for the professor about things that could happen in the classroom, say, “I saw ___________ in another class. Could we give it a try?” Or say, “I find that I do well when professors let us break out into small groups and talk about the lecture after every five slides (or whatever). Can we try that?”
In #STNT, I discuss boring classes and the idea that it never hurts to ask a professor to teach you in a way that you want to be taught, if reasonable. You may not get what you want, but you might break a prof out of a little bit of “suck.” And that prof may thank you for it, although you may not know that particular term.
4. Some profs don’t have much more than the book to support them.
I don’t want to leave out the obvious from the parent’s complaint. There are profs who forget that teaching is supposed to involve some of their own thoughts and ideas–and far more than just the textbook that they or their department selected. Some profs become lazy and stop seeking out other instructional materials. They may not perceive that bolstering content with their own information–or even a multitude of outside sources aside from the text and its ancillaries–would even matter. Other profs, once again, may be new and are just starting to build their arsenal of teaching materials. To be fair, this takes time, but it is time that we all got into the profession to spend.
A student should not be expected to solve this issue for us. Constructing curriculum is a fundamental part of any classroom faculty’s role. However, if a student sees that only a textbook is being used (this would be evident if the student is coming into class, opening up the book, and that is the only tool ever utilized), then the student can say, “Are there other materials or resources available for our learning in addition to our textbook?” This question, alone, may wake up an informationally sleepy professor.
Students may want to offer to do some presentations or gather interesting material for credit, possibly create a class wiki. I’m not saying students should write curriculum, but they have to study the topic anyway.
Finally, when a student asks about additional resources, this could be an opportunity for the professor to investigate other publisher tools that could also help students, such as technological ancillaries, websites, student workbooks, etc.
I realize I’ve only tapped into a limited number of reasons why some professors are sub-par. Okay, why they suck, like the original student mentioned. I will end by saying that students must, must, must speak up when it seems like faculty are failing them. I realize that speaking up feels intimidating. But this is college! The faculty-student relationship is supposed to be a partnership. If one side is totally falling down, then you must figure out how you can ask for your needs to be met, as long as they are reasonable.
Of course, wonderful students, the only time that this entire argument holds up is if you are doing 100% of your part, too.
And you are, right?
I thought so!