Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Changing Nature of Teaching at Today's Colleges

Even a Half A$$ can dress like a bada$$!


When people ask me what I teach, I always say “students”. This prompts them to look at me like I am acting like a smart-a$$, which of course, I’m not. I’m a half-a$$ not a smart-a$$. But my point is that I teach people, not a subject. Fifty years ago, hell twenty years ago, professors could expect to walk into their classrooms and lecture for an hour or so on whatever their subject was and then head back to their office to sit and ponder the next week’s lecture. (Or go sit through a boring committee meeting.) But today’s students are different and faculty must change with the times.

I am an easy person to talk to as I think anyone who knows me will agree. I’m good at listening and I’m even better at tossing a few witty, sarcastic, or inappropriate comments their way too. I lack the part of the brain that filters thoughts from coming out of the mouth and so it would be like everyone having the ability to see you thought bubble. The doctors tell me that lack of impulse control with thoughts can be a side effect of PTSD or head injuries, both of which I have experienced. Or it could just be that I am socially awkward. Who knows?

I taught my first class ten years ago, in the Fall of 2004. In the semesters that have followed, I have had students open up to me about all sorts of issues. Suicides, drug problems, marital problems, parental problems, school problems, life problems, sexuality problems. You name it, I have had students talk to me about it. As a now former police officer, I have just about seen it all. There is nothing a student can say that can shock me and I do not judge. They know this about me and it makes them comfortable talking to me. Sadly they are not comfortable talking to all of their professors.

Most of the faculty I've come across are great. They love their subject and they love teaching, but there is a subgroup that exists at colleges and universities across America that considers themselves above their students. They look down on them. They talk down to them. They use phrases like “I have paid my dues and they haven’t yet.” This needs to stop. We, as faculty, are no better than our students. We are just a little bit older, more educated, and more experienced. But as humans, we are equal. If you think that your position as a professor makes you better than anyone else, then perhaps you’d be more interested in living in an aristocracy or perhaps the Middle Ages when the idea of Divine Right of Kings was prevalent. The arrogance of some faculty members at today’s institutions of higher learning astounds me.  Some of them treat adjuncts with the same disdain. It makes me wonder. If you don't like students and you don't like teaching, then why they hell did you become a professor? Again, this is really a small subset of faculty from what I have seen. Most do not do this.

Faculty talk about the challenges that they have in life (and if you are an adjunct, your challenges are all the greater) yet some of those same faculty refuse to accept any similar discussion from their students. Trust me, I was a cop and I once worked traffic detail. I've heard every excuse and I can spot a bad one a mile away. But sometimes stuff does happen that can effect a student’s ability to complete some assigned task. Show a little mercy. You know as well as I do that you’d be the first to come up with an excuse if you got pulled over for speeding too! More and more of today’s students are non-traditional which means that they have more challenges and more hurdles in their path than the upper middle class college students of 60 years ago. They work. They have families. They struggle with various issues. In other words, they have the same issues that we, as faculty sometimes have.   

Part of our job as faculty is to mentor our students. We must listen to their concerns and offer solutions, if possible If not, we should refer them to those who can. If a student comes to you with a problem that means they trust you enough to talk to you. Give them the same respect and listen. It only takes a few minutes and it means more to them than they will ever tell you. Sometimes we have to take on a role greater than what we were hired to do and I predict in the future this will only become more common.

The bottom line is that colleges have changed and college students have changed. Faculty must be willing to adapt to the times if we are to be successful. Sure, you students don’t have to like you but it helps if they trust you. Getting them to do that is easier than you think. Open up to them about some challenges that you face (or have faced), talk to them like the adults that they are, and let them know that you are there to further their education in whatever way possible. One thing my students will tell you about me is that I always have their backs, no matter what. Remember, as a professor you are a leader in the classroom. And good leaders do so by example.

So this post is for all of you good professors out there who go above and beyond the simple lecturing and grading that all faculty do. You reach your students and you touch their lives. Though the financial rewards are not that great, you have something far better. The satisfaction of having made a difference.

My name is Lee Hutch and though I may be a Half A$$ Historian, I’m a halfway decent teacher. (Note that though I am technically a professor I call myself a teacher because I teach. I do not profess.) 

No comments:

Post a Comment