Back in the day, guys used to work. Nowadays, guys got feelings. — An old hand’s lament.
Yesterday I locked myself out of my office. It was a carpool day and I forgot to grab my keys.
When I got to school it was time for my first section of freshman introductory World History. So I went right to class and got them settled and oriented toward the day’s task, which was peer-review of thesis paragraphs for their papers on agency. (In this section most of the papers will be on the decision to drop the atomic bomb.) Then I told them what was up with my keys, they laughed at me, and I left the classroom to go get my door open.
When I got back after about 15 minutes (took a pitstop while I was at it) they were reading and commenting on their second or third paragraphs each. I let them finish a couple more swaps, then had a group discussion about what patterns they saw in the paragraphs they had read. This yielded some nice insights about constructing a point in relation to evidence and the concept of agency in relation to structure. Then I opened a parenthesis about their teaching/learning journals for the class, and asked them a process question. Colleagues regularly remark on how my students don’t seem to require a lot of supervision, I informed them. Why do students just work in some classes but play limpy or make an obstructive fuss in others?
The discussion was interesting and seemed self-reflectively valuable, so I asked the other two sections the same thing. Then, with a meeting coming up to select the campus professor of the year, I used my seminar today as a focus group to brainstorm qualities that make a good teacher. Across the four groups the students’ perspectives lined up strikingly consistently. A common wisdom among some teachers is that students want to be spoon-fed, so their opinion of ‘good’ teaching is really just easy grades. I didn’t find this to be the case at all. Given bad alternatives students prefer an easy teacher to an arbitrarily or inaccessibly hard one. But they don’t respect or appreciate easy teaching.
My students all enjoy most the classes in which they learn the most. Across the board they report learning the most from professors who treat them with respect, show them the value of the work they’re doing, and include them in a shared process of teaching and learning. They appreciate when their teachers care about them and make an effort to shorten social distance rather than pontificating from on high. They love when professors know their stuff, and hate having their noses rubbed in the Herr Professor Doktor’s great expertise. They like to be challenged, not demeaned. In today’s group, where students brought up favorite professors by name, these factors were notably effective regardless of gender, race and ethnicity.
Incidentally, not a single student mentioned instructional technology as a dimension of good teaching and learning.
Previous posts on various aspects of this are behind the links.