As a member of the adjunct faculty at the local college, I receive an e-mail whenever someone from our institution is in the media. Most recently, I received a message stating that a professor and one of the administrators at the college collaborated on a piece discussing whether college students or professors were to blame for poor performance if, and when, it occurs. From the article:
This conclusion that students are not “all right” often takes the form of lamenting students’ lack of motivation, lack of interest, lack of preparation, excessive partying, excessive socializing, and a lack of enthusiasm for our teaching. Worse, some make broad claims that students in general “don’t read,” “can’t write” and “can’t think,” especially compared to students of yesteryear. But are these novel complaints? A faculty report once concluded that 25 percent of students admitted to Harvard in 1897 did not have the writing skills necessary to succeed in college. This does not bode well for progress in higher education over the past 100+ years.
Unfortunately what this does suggest is that the phenomenon of blaming students is more ubiquitous and may not be limited to teachers who are exceptionally egocentric, narcissistic, burnt-out, curmudgeonly, or those who would rather not teach at all.
Among the many items that I like in these two paragraphs, I think special attention should be paid to the description of certain professors as, “exceptionally egocentric, narcissistic, burnt-out, [or] curmudgeonly.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve had professors that fit all of these adjectives (and sometimes all at once!). I had a racist and sexist professor (who I’ve blogged about before) who was “exceptionally egocentric” while being narcissistic at the same time. It was amazing. This was a woman who actively worked against student learning if you were a white male in her classroom. It was unbelievable, though in some respects I think that her arrogance and downright racism and sexism have caused me to be a better educator today. I am now keenly aware of my treatment of minority students and my interactions with the male and female contingencies in my classroom.
Getting back to the article, I think that the writers (Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. and David B. Strohmetz) do a great job of explaining how professors may easily forget how they acted while they were college students. This is another issue that I try to be aware of as I’m teaching my classes. When I look at the students and I notice that a bunch of them are either not paying attention or have their heads down, I immediately change up my lesson plan to get them more engaged in the classroom. I believe that teaching should not be a process that is set in stone, but rather it should adapt (as/if necessary) to the environment. Luckily, I rarely look at the students and see them bored en masse though I do catch one or two of them going to town on their BlackBerries or text messaging like crazy. Which brings me to another portion of Lewandowski and Strohmetz’s article:
Students in our classes today do check their cell phones excessively. When we were students, most of us never would have dreamed of doing such a thing (mainly because there weren’t cell phones). But, if you had such a device as a student, I suspect that you may have found it difficult to avoid checking for text messages about that night’s social activities as well. Now that we do have these devices, how many of your colleagues (if not yourself) check their BlackBerrys or iPhones on a potentially excessive basis? Although there may be generation differences in the available technology, students and teachers of yesterday and today share the same desire to learn useful information, to be financially secure, to lead a happy life, and to be efficient, and to avoid wasting time engaging in seemingly meaningless activities. Ultimately, if we focus on the similarities rather than highlight the differences, we will be more effective in helping our students to learn.
Alright, point taken. And, in fact, I’ve even found myself sitting in the back of the room during my classes checking my text messages as they come in (though never responding). Oh, sometimes I sit in the back of the room to change up the atmosphere in the classroom. Throws some of the students for a loop, but it allows me to focus on seeing the lesson as they see it. I think I’ve done this twice so far this semester.
Again, I would recommend that if you have any interest in the college classroom or if you are a professor, teacher, engaged student, or just someone interested in knowing more about the relationships in the classroom, then I suggest reading this article. It is both interesting and thought-provoking.