Professing: Mediocre Terms

I had the opportunity to chat with some other professors about their courses, and we ended up chatting about the occasional course “do over.” If you poll professors, there will always be a class or term where things just did not go as planned. In some instances it was out of your control. You might have been under tight deadlines for projects or you were teaching 4 courses with new preparations for each course.

One thing that we agreed upon was the need to reflect and then move on from that course or term. I have been thinking about this conversation some. I haven’t had a bad term, but I have had a course go off the rails. I have had a Teaching Assistant abandon the job, and I had to do all of that person’s marking. (And, the Teaching Assistant was still paid! But, that is another post.) The other graduate students in the department were not aware of the entire story and made that term terrible by blocking my door, standing outside of my office talking loudly during my office hours, and other bullying up behavior that was appalling. But, the term ended well and I have since supported many of those grad students with mentoring as they go onto the job market.

Many years ago a student threatened me via email repeatedly and the campus was great with the swift response, and I know that I never want that to happen again. The reality is, though, that I will have another interesting course. I will have a student say terrible things in class, in an email or in my office hours. I might have a student ask to see other graded work or make demands of me that I do not appreciate. And, I’ll have to respond thoughtfully or disengage accordingly. I am fine with that. This is part of my job, and honestly, these interactions are small. But, from talking with other professors, we wear this. We remember these moments. We can reflect, but we have to forget and move on to the next term.

I talk about teachable moments and I will have them. This can vary from the moment in class, office hours or after class. Teaching and mentoring is not easy. As the new school year looms for those teaching Summer session or continues for those who never great a break, hang in there! Raising my cup of coffee to all of the professors!

Response to Pushing Back on Mediocre College Professors: Revisit

After chatting with some other academics, I felt it was worth revisiting this post from 2010. Seth Godin posted a blog post about how students need to push back-perhaps expect more from their mediocre college professors. I didn’t really take offense at the blog post. I don’t think Godin is speaking to me. My favorite part of my job, as a college professor, is the classroom–lecturing and engaging with students. I’m good with people–well, most people. Don’t believe the lies on RMP. The haters are gonna hate and motivate, and potatoes are going to potate. (OK, inside joke and perhaps a bad one).

I get what Godin is saying, but he’s making a big assumption about students. We get lots of unmotivated and perhaps barely mediocre students in our classroom. But, I do want to respond to parts of his blog. I really want to push back on the mediocre or barely mediocre students who come to class unprepared or only wanting to offer knee jerk commentary and not real engagement with the course materials. I wish that all of the students in my class came to class prepared and ready to discuss the readings, but this is not the case. It might be the time of day or the time of the term and the students just cannot give 70% to the class.

I have countless students who don’t bother to even come to class, pick up their work or attend their tutorials. Students need to remember that they are also responsible for engaging in their education. Professors are only part of the equation. A good class really includes good students or students who are there to learn. Students are responsible to and for a good class. If they give very little, they are going to get very little out of the class. I don’t have a wand to dispense information.  Continue reading