Welcome to Fall 2016!
The start of the semester is an exciting time for faculty and students. For many of you it marks the launch of a new course design or revision. Some of you worked with Faculty Development or the Chancellor’s Office over the summer while many of you start the term with adjustments based on your own research and experience. You know the course is improved, you know it is better set up for student success and then that question comes. Maybe it is a question you thought you had worked around with a course redesign or an adjustment of your own outlook, maybe it is one you have never heard before, maybe it is one you do not fully understand. In any case, you are frustrated and temped by a flippant response along the lines of “do you know how much work I put into this?”
Instead I would urge you to engage in some healthy perspective taking. This may be your 20th year as a professor and your 11th time teaching a course, but it is probably their first time taking it as a student. Consider the perspectives which generate typical (and frustrating) questions.
- “When am I ever going to use this?” Many of us find this troubling as the merits of our own disciplines are self-evident to us. The same may not be true for a first-semester student in an English class or an advanced Geology student. Making connections between the course and the world outside the classroom is part of our work, even if references to the real world are troubling.
- “Is this going to be on the test?” We often recoil when students are so clearly focused on grades in a way that is seemingly dismissive of learning. Take a moment and consider why students might be concerned with grades. They are how we measure athletic eligibility, competitiveness for scholarships, graduate school tiers, and even the ability to continue towards a degree at Chico. While we may yearn for a student population focused on learning, we have set up a system that rewards and punishes them based on grades.
- “When are your office hours? (or any other syllabus question)” Once as an experiment for a semester I did not respond to questions one could answer by referencing the syllabus, it did not go well. These questions can get frustrating, but asking them can also be frustrating for students. Are they new to the University and the concept of the syllabus? Did they have a course from a previous semester where their instructor constantly rescheduled office hours? Is the syllabus a clear and inviting document (Cornell has a good guide). Is your syllabus accessible enough for all your students to read it? It is easy to think they are asking because they are lazy, but often that is lazy on our part. For a first-generation student balancing work and school asking about your office hours may be their way of ensuring you will be there because they may have to take time off work or away from family. Let’s think about this another way, if a student is so interested in coming to see you they want to make sure you are going to be there and confirm in advance, isn’t that something we want to encourage?
Sometimes questions are lazy, but do not let your experiences with the least prepared and engaged students shape your experiences with everyone else.
Got feedback on this tip? Leave a comment or email it to us. Got an idea for a tip? Send it along. Check out our new and improved wordpress site here.