Posted by Ellen Bremen on Oct 24, 2012 in Communicating with Professors, General, General College Success/Responses to Other College Entities | 16 comments
(We’re back to college success! There are some frustrated folks out there. As a recent guest on Women’s Talk Radio, bunches of students called in about negative experiences with profs–and it was only the first week of school! Here are two comments I recently received. When I read them, I had two thoughts: a) We don’t always help as much we should; and b) Some of us suck sometimes. All faculty were students and we experienced great and not-so-great profs. I hardly have all the answers, but I’m willing to share what I know and open up the conversation. I also admit that after a year of being on leave, I feel like I suck a little, myself, this term–and I’ll discuss that in part 2 on Friday. Here we go…).
Comment #1: From a parent: “What about the college student who asks for help and gets the look from the professor like, ‘You don’t know this material? Then go read the book!’? I have been appalled by the lack of concern for students that I know that have asked for help and have been looked down upon for asking or receive the above aforementioned treatment. Why is the student in school? To learn the material or to have an already working knowledge of the subject matter? Help is a two way street. Who wants to go back to someone who has given little help or interest the first time around? This has been the experience with my university student.”
Comment #2: From a student: “Some profs just suck at teaching. The problem is the colleges hire profs who meet the academic requirements to be a prof and most of them turn out really good, but some of them are just really smart and have minimal teaching skills. Just because you are smarter than the student does not mean you can teach. It takes a certain person to be a teacher. Lecture halls are not teaching you anything, you could obtain the same information over the internet and take notes from that. Teaching makes the student learn the material, it doesn’t just say “Here is some material you need to know… Good luck…”
I want to tackle both sides of this argument. Here goes:
1. Some profs feel that students won’t really try to help themselves.
I’ll tackle the parent’s concern in a moment, but I have to start with what happens to profs possibly just as often: Students put in small (or no) effort, throw up their hands, come to us and say, “I’m so confused!” Now when this happens, I have two choices: I can either do the work for the student (which is what I feel the student wants me to do) or empower the student to turn right around and go back to the available resources first. This might be the book, notes, the course management system, etc. Then I tell the student that after he/she has done those things, I am glad to help.
If I know I’ve provided enough instructional materials, I need to teach the student how to wade through what I’ve provided, then come back to me and say, “Professor (or, in my case, ‘Ellen’), I’m working on my journal for our Interpersonal Communication course and question #3 asks about interdependent self-perception. I have looked in the chapter and in my notes and I don’t see that term defined. Can you help me?”
I’m forcing the student to show me what he/she has already done to solve his/her own problem before just saying “I’m so lost!” This is a critical life and professional skill that I know I have to help the student cultivate. So, in this case, we don’t suck. We are trying to create responsible, empowered learners.
2. Some profs won’t help, for whatever reason.
Absolutely… some profs just don’t help students. There could be a million reasons why, but none of the reasons justify the behavior.
I realize that I what I’m about to say may sound unrealistic, particularly when we are talking about potential freshmen who have never encountered a college classroom, but students must self-advocate when profs won’t help. A college student must get a quick lesson into adulthood and say, “I deserve to receive assistance if I’ve done everything I can to help myself first.” (The latter is key, however: You have to help yourself first!).
Go to your professor after class or during office hours (which are contractually required at most colleges–I’ve blogged about this before) and say, “I’m struggling with __________. This is what I’ve tried to do to solve it (be very detailed with your explanation). I’ve gone as far as I can on my own and now I need your help.”
If the prof says, “Go read the book”, then you say, “I have read the book and I’ve taken notes from your lectures. Unfortunately, I’m still confused. I need your knowledge to help me interpret this material further.” I realize you shouldn’t have to say that. Your prof may need to be reminded.
Bottom line, and I’ve said this before: Even if the prof is part of a research institution, someone has a responsibility to assist you–a teaching assistant, graduate assistant, whomever. And I still stand by that if a prof is teaching a course, there is at least some responsibility to carry out the duties that come along with teaching, and one of those duties is helping students … like it or not!
Still not receiving help? Go to another professor in the same department, or even above the professor’s head to a division or department chair. You say, “I have tried to get help from this professor repeatedly (explain everything you’ve done). I have not received help. I need some recommendations.”
I agree with the parent. Students are not supposed to come in knowing the material. We don’t expect them to, do we? We don’t want students to feel like they can’t come back to us for assistance. That feeling can resonate outward and students will feel hesitant to ask for help elsewhere, too. We can’t have that. Resource-seeking is a critical skill to foster in our students.
I’m going to end this post here, but continue it on Friday. In that post, I’m going to share a couple other times when professors may not be as strong in the classroom, such as when we are brand new or trying things that we haven’t tried before (that would be me right now–feeling moments of “suck,” but at least I am being creative about it). I will also discuss one reality that the parent raised: When the prof is relying on just the book as a teaching tool.
How would you respond to the parent and the student? I’m very interested to hear other thoughts.