Every semester faculty are faced with students who struggle with completing assignments, understanding the content, or just find it difficult to participate in class activities
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
*This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on July 8, 2019. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved. College student mental health is currently receiving a great
I have long pondered a phrase I learned from a mentor: “Witness the struggle.” Frances, my mentor, used the phrase when she talked about working with students in emotional pain. She was referring to those students who sometimes lash out in frustration over missed assignments, family dynamics, or other stressful life issues. As a career educator, I have a deep desire to help students and a strong tendency to offer solutions and suggestions. I want to fix their problems and tell them what to do. The wise words of this phrase offer a more powerful and profound answer to the part of me that thinks I need to rescue students. Its simple urging suggests that I be fully engaged and present, that I use silence to clear a space, and that I guard against telling students what to do. More often than not, students simply need to know that their voices count, that they have been heard, and that who they are matters.
Most teachers know that caring for students is important, but do they realize just how important? A recent article by Steven A. Meyers offers a succinct, well-referenced, and persuasive review of research that addresses the topic. It begins with what most teachers already know: Caring is regularly identified as one of the ingredients or components of effective instruction. What many teachers do not know is that students value the dimensions of caring more highly than teachers do.
Earlier this year, we kicked off the semester with a faculty development workshop on academic customer service. Academic customer service is a hot and contentious topic on many college campuses, with faculty often reeling at the suggestion that students are customers (and therefore “always right”) or that education is a product intended for consumption. The feedback from our session in August was prickly and some of the comments demonstrated that we were in worse shape than I imagined.
Teaching at a historically black university can have its obstacles; especially when you are not African American. One of the main obstacles for me was how I was viewed by the students — I often felt that students did not or could not relate to me. Standing before them, I did not have the appearance of one who has ever encountered any difficulties in my lifetime or career. As a result, my students did not find me very approachable in spite of the fact that I had mentioned many times that I was available during office hours and would be happy to speak with anyone. Once the students would make the effort to stop by my office, it seemed that they would learn that I am much more approachable than they had originally imagined.
Rapport, defined as “the ability to maintain harmonious relationships based on affinity” (a definition cited in the article referenced below), is more colloquially thought of as what happens when two people “click”—they connect, interact well, and respond to each other favorably.
Thinking and writing metaphorically is often a recommended way to clarify one’s approach to teaching. Having a particular mental image provides a reference point, or compass, to guide teaching decisions and actions. There are many interesting and colorful characters in Greek mythology that might serve as possible metaphorical models for teaching faculty.
This learning by doing is an excellent example and extension of Dewey’s Experiential Learning Theory, which suggests that everything occurs in a social environment. Learning is a process that includes knowledge, as facilitated and organized by the instructor, as well as, students’ previous experiences and readiness. As educators, we have a responsibility to provide students…