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Thinking Like a Student

I have had ample time to think about my teaching and service philosophy thanks to compiling the monster of the third-year reappointment file. And, one of the things that I have ruminated about is trying to ascertain how students think. Here, I refer to how they think about the materials, college, and instructors. I cannot get inside the minds of my current students—without attempting to query them and hope for their honesty.

Their written and numerical evaluations are not completely fair either—since they are imbued with a sense of satisfaction (or not) with the class, grades earned, and me. I will have to think about students or the classes with my old memories, then.
What was significant for me as a student (undergraduate) in the classroom or office hours?! Now, I have to really stretch here, since each year I get more removed from my tenure as an undergraduate! The sort of lessons that I learned vary from knowing that showing up was important. Yes, coming to class and going to office hours. Now, office hours seemed really special and even a little intimidating. But, this is when I learned how invaluable they were.

I also learned that I performed better in courses that I really enjoyed. I did not have to have friends in the course, but the materials or the focus of the class struck me in some way. And, then there were the various professors. I remember the good ones fondly. Sure, there were a few that were not skilled at teaching or working with students, but the course materials might have made up for it.

My big lesson learned as an undergraduate was that I needed to own my education. I had to show up, I had to act like I had an investment at stake—and I did. I was lucky to have good mentors and that influenced my overall experience as an undergraduate student. And, I felt lucky to actually get the opportunity to attend college. I distinctly remember sitting in a mid-term or final and wondering where all these people came from and why they were not in class previously. These are my memories as an undergraduate student. I am sure that I have more!

5 thoughts on “Thinking Like a Student

  1. Trying to determine how students think is like answering the question, “How long is a piece of string?” Each student is so individual that a profile of what’s typical provides no information.

    What influenced me in my undergrad years were the courses I didn’t like, the teachers I didn’t like, and the procedures that I thought were stupid. The courses I didn’t like are the content I use weekly, the teachers I didn’t like I now respect (but still don’t like), and the procedures I thought were stupid are those I have to abide by every day (and still think are stupid).

    • Interesting point. But, I have to say that in my experience there are certain core things that are shared by students. I hear this in my office or office hours. I teach lots of classes and taught some 1200 last year and have been teaching for 14 years, so I see some patterns. The blog post was predicated on thinking about students’ comments in my course experience surveys and reviewing my file from the last few years. My ruminations. The students are not actually that different, when you get down to it.

  2. Great advice on owning your education. Seems like the only way for things to have meaning is to find subjects or courses that reflect or are in sync with our passions. When we like what we’re learning, homework doesn’t necessarily feel “like a chore”.

  3. Great advice, especially the “showing up” part. Woody Allen said 90% of life was just showing up, but this is a less cynical point. So much happens in the class – informal asides, digressions, student questions and answers, not to mention feeling the interest the prof has in her work. You don’t get this from a textbook or from copying someone else’s notes.

    The single most important thing the (expensive!) tuition pays for is the right to sit in class and interact with the prof. Not doing that is like buying a nice bike and never riding it!

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