A few days ago, I read on Facebook the re-posting of an essay, authored by a young college professor, which discussed the five things students should never say to their professors. Originally published in USA Today, the list includes such gems as "Did I miss anything important," "I took this class for an easy A," "I didn't know we had anything due," "I was studying for another course so couldn't do my work for this class," and "Did you answer my email yet."
While I, like so many professors, have been asked all of these questions during my teaching career, I want to offer a different list, this one for professors. Too often, educators, and especially professors, seem to operate from the perspective that "this job would be Ok if it weren't for the kids." That list of questions not to ask, in my mind, comes from the same place. While it may have been intended to help students get in good with their professors, it seems to suggest that students are clueless dolts who are annoyingly self-centered.
I disagree. I do not find the majority of students to be either clueless or self-centered. And, when we approach teaching in this manner, we create a classroom climate that starts off negatively and reinforces that those with the power (read: professors) have nothing but disdain for those who lack it.
So, here's my list of things for professors to remember as we start a new school year:
1) Your job is to teach whomever is in your class. This might not always include the most engaged and eloquent students. Deal with it. Try to be creative and flexible so that you can help those students become more engaged. If this isn't your strong suit, seek help. There is no shortage of great journals and books devoted to enhancing teaching skills.
2) Being empathetic to students' issues and problems does not make you weak. Rather, trying to understand why a student might be struggling and, when appropriate, making accommodations is a sign of respect. When you treat students this way, they typically respond in kind.
3) Students' lives outside the classroom can be an important part of their education. We are constantly socialized through our lived experiences. It behooves us to be aware of what is happening on campus so we can help students see the connections between their work, their family lives, even their campus activities, and what is happening in the classroom.
4) College education should be about preparing students to create a better world. This is the most important of the four. If we continue to teach the same content and in the same ways as we were taught, we are preparing people to live in a world that is like ours today. This is not the goal. Rather, we need to develop students' creativity and leadership, their commitment to peace and social justice, if we have a prayer of continuing our existence on this planet.
While it is a short list, it isn't an easy one. But, as they say, if teaching was easy, everyone would do it.