keeping an eye on the tree and the forest

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Some Things Teachers Should Know


As someone who teaches on a weekly basis and who has been through a lot of classes, I can resonate and learn from this list. From the Chronicle of Higher Education blog “Brainstorm”:

5 More Things Your Students Think You Need to Know

Gina Barreca

Today’s points comes from a former student (UConn, ’09) who wishes to remain anonymous. Now a teaching at a middle-school in Chicago, she asked me to let CHE readers know that she is attempting to follow her own advice.

Dear Professor:

1. You might not realize it, but we notice when you’re angry, distracted, annoyed, exhausted, frustrated, nervous, and/or feeling too lazy to bother paying attention. We think that you should be able to put those emotions aside for the fairly brief time we have you as our instructor in the classroom. You don’t allow us to sleep or cry during class, so why should you be allowed to rant about subjects that have nothing to do with the course? If it’s an amusing anecdote, that’s something we’ll welcome, but if you’re tempted to tell us on a regular basis how miserable your life is, how corrupt the administration is, how misguided the government is, or how disappointing we are, then we’d be happier if you would resist the temptation.

2. You might not believe it, but most of the time we don’t think you are funny and we don’t even understand most of the references you make in terms of your attempts at humor. Only a few people still watch Monty Python and we’re not going to start just so we can understand what you mean by “silly walks” and we don’t know all the Simpsons episodes as well as you do. Please don’t get us started on Seinfeld. Our parents think that’s funny. We don’t. We laugh when you pause because you clearly expect it and we want to make you happy and/or get a good grade by getting into your good graces.

3. You might not want to hear this (again, since others have mentioned it) but we spend all our time looking at you and therefore wish you would take even more time to groom yourselves. If you are teaching with coffee stains on your tie, we’ll notice them and then spend time inventing stories about what happened to cause the stains. Did you have a tiff with your partner that morning? Did you hear something shocking on the way to work and spill your coffee in the car? Is this a tie you wore last week and are these the same stains? Please check your fly and your bra strap before standing in front of the class because we don’t know whether what you’re doing is deliberate or not.

4. You might be surprised, but you make a lot of mistakes. Your hand-outs have errors and your power-point presentations, when you can get them to work, often contain mistakes. You omit words, spell terms incorrectly, or supply conflicting pieces of information. Please make it clear to us whether or not you would prefer to hear about these missteps. We hope you do want your mistakes corrected because you spend a lot of time noticing ours.

5. You might be puzzled, but yeah, we talk about you because we see you several times a week. We tell our friends whether or not you are a good teacher and we tell our parents and their friends the same. You are a big part of our lives and so if you see yourself mentioned on those teaching sites or Facebook or wherever, you should not assume we are weird. It would be strange if we didn’t discuss you. This loops back to the first point in this note, which is that we notice whether you give a damn about your teaching and about your students. You can make us feel like we have a chance at grasping a subject or understanding an idea or else make us feel like we’re as ridiculous, pathetic, and useless as we’ve always suspected we might be. It’s easy to make us feel bad and we talk highly of those professors who don’t take the easy way out.

* Bonus note: You probably don’t think it matters, but smiling when you first arrive in the classroom everyday is great.