In Praise of Students and Good Teachers

Poor Teaching Quality Deters Students,” by Cyndi White, Daily Nebraskan, 24 April 2006, page 4,

This semester, I’m blessed with two extremely good teachers. Because of these class leaders, who teach Creativity, Talent, & Expertise and Scope & Methods, I can academically write and present much better than before. I owe these two individuals a lot.

Indeed, the knowledge of what such great instructors can do leads me to give this extended quote from UNL’s student newspaper on the effects of bad teachers:

To be quite blunt, with a few exceptions, my classes this semester are pure crap. My projection or displacement or whatever defense mechanism I was obviously displaying didn’t stop there. I began thinking … which is never good for me.

This semester, I’ve found myself wondering if professors actually know how to teach. I realize I’m overstepping my bounds, speaking outside my meager knowledge of anything, but even as a dumb college student, I know what real learning is about, and I haven’t been doing much of it this semester.

I do want, however, to take a moment to acknowledge our, the students’, shortcomings in this entire professor/student exchange.

We’re lazy, apathetic, ask terrible questions, fall asleep in class, come to class starved or just plain don’t come to class at all.

But in my experience and interactions with other students, I’ve come to realize there are two main reasons why we don’t come to class or, if we do, are unengaged: We’re either too hung over from the night before, or we’re just plain bored.

And, honestly, I find it to usually be the latter.

In preparation for this rant, I looked at numerous other college newspapers around the country. It became almost ridiculous how many stories about inept professors came to my immediate attention. Students around the nation are agreeing that while they have great professors, they also have a multitude of terrible professors. And this isn’t even looking at all the professor rating Web sites there are. It seems sad we need so many.

The list of complaints I found, compiled primarily between the Elon Pendulum and the Harvard Crimson, look something like this: The `bad’ professors are boring, read directly from PowerPoint slides, speak in monotone and don’t offer creative assignments.

My observations are similar. In one class, for example, we have readings every night, and in class we discuss those readings. We’re led by the professor, poked and prodded to get to a place he/she wants us to be. Occasionally we get into interesting discussions, but we’re never challenged.

This isn’t meant to suggest that all, or even most, of our professors are bad. As we all know, there are some amazing professors here that believe in us, motivate us and encourage us. One such professor in one of my oversized lecture classes is incredible.

Her lectures are never boring, they’re engaging, and she keeps us laughing. What makes these professors different than the others is their obvious love for teaching and for students.

I’m not so presumptuous and audacious that I believe I can or would ever want to tell professors how to teach. Their judgment is far superior to my own, but maybe students and professors can make a pseudo-contract of sorts. We’ll try to show up to class hung over less, if you try to engage us a little more, at least those of us who care – and I swear we exist.

If I’m going to fight for loans and more scholarships and pay $1,200 per class, along with so many other students, please, help us get a little more bang for our dang buck.

Cyndi isn’t just correct — her column shows the effects of bad teachers.

Students of a bad teacher are likely to rate themselves as less smart than students of a good one. Students learn helplessness, learn not to try, and not to give up.

This does not have to be. Students do great work all of the time, but university classes are not arranged to provoke great work. In spite of contemporary epistemologies such as constructivism, interpretivism, and instrumentalism, too many instructors act as if they have “universal” correct answers. They force students to memorize facts, instead of exploiting the natural desire to work and learn.

Educational style matters, too. Typical classroom instruction is useless. Students leave no smarter than they entered — they’re able to put the right answers to multiple choice questions, and that’s it. Students intituively know this, and sensible minimize the amount of effort they put into classes.

One success story, from today: a class democratically voted to double its workload. Students get to college by having a strong internal locus of control — they are hard workers and enjoy learning. Yet so many professors don’t recognize this. Instead, they treat students like prisoners incapable of learning, and then act surprised when students jump through the minimum number of hoops necessary. Or (the opposite exchange) instructors may not challenge students at all, and then be surprised when students don’t respect their classes.

I take my responsibilities as an instructor seriously. I take educational psychology classes (such as adolescent psychology, creativity, talent, & expertise, and human cognition & instruction to expose myself to better teaching methods, and frankly I find that these classes are more useful in getting across political science concepts (my department of study) than do actual polisci classes.

This raises deeper questions: Why have the Modern University System at all? Field “experts” who teach poorly do little good, as field novices who teach well would be more useful for students. Concepts like tenure protect the Leftist academics class more than they protect open speech Already there are serious calls to restructure science education: now for the rest of undergraduate education, too.