August 24th, 2010

Students’ Messages to Teachers


Last week I participated in a beginning of the academic year event for faculty. It included a panel of bright, articulate upper-division students.

From the audience came this question: “What are the things faculty do that you really hate?” “Arrive at class late,” one student said almost immediately, “and then offer the excuse that you got caught up doing your email. Doing email? Come on, I lose respect for faculty like that.” Another student spoke, “Under required texts, list an expensive book and then never mention it all semester.” “Assigning homework before teaching the material in class. You struggle to do the homework, you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do, and you get a crummy homework grade. If you want to develop a student’s confidence, assign homework that you’ve at least talked about in class,” suggested a third.

These actions seem so obviously wrong—it’s hard to imagine faculty committing these kinds of errors. My guess is that not many do. I wish the questioner had asked this question: “What do faculty do that really compromises your efforts to learn the material?”

There was lots of discussion on the panel about the value of students and teachers connecting, interacting, and otherwise communicating with each another. One of the students provided a lovely example. “It was the end of the semester, and I was walking across campus. I ran into my English professor. I was embarrassed because I couldn’t remember her name. She remembered mine and asked about my plans for the summer. I told her I was going home to Ohio to run a big cheerleading workshop. She wished me well. When I got back to campus in the fall—it was probably the second day I was back—I ran into this same English professor, and I still couldn’t remember her name. She welcomed me back and then asked how the cheerleading event turned out. I was stunned she remembered. When I got back to my room I looked up her name, and I also looked at the courses she taught last year. She had almost 300 students across the year, and she remembered my name and what I was doing during the summer. I will never forget her name now.”

We need regular reminders that even a seemingly unimportant exchange of pleasantries can impact a student’s development—personally and educationally.