A rant on college teachers cont’d…

My last post sparked a lot of discussion.  Here’s a slightly more thoughtful and reasoned consideration of the subject…but I do love me a good rant.  This post won’t make much sense unless you read the last one.

I’ll start with my perspective on what effective teaching is.  I think the bare minimum, the cost of entry, is the student leaving your course having learned whatever it is your course was supposed to impart.  Think about the favorite teachers you’ve had.  Are they your favorites because they killed it on making you understand the Pythagorean theorem? Did you love them because their course was easy?  I doubt it.

They did something more.  What was that?  Inspired you?  Broadened your world view?  Challenged you to go further than you believed you could?  Made you love a subject you had been dreading?  Just made you eager to come to class?  Some combination of those things and others?  I’ll guess the answer is some variation of “all of the above.”

Now, how did they do that?  Were you inspired by the crisp, tailored suits and flashy cufflinks of your instructor?  Was it their ability to talk for two straight hours?  Perhaps it was how they established that they were superior to you?  Maybe it was that they demanded your respect and attention and didn’t return either of those things?  Did they disregard how you learn best because they were the expert?

I set the bar for effective teaching higher than checking off a list of things the student was supposed to learn.  I have had so many great teachers throughout my life and career that I don’t think there is a scarcity.  That is why clock punchers cause rants.  They’re taking up valuable space and cause tremendous opportunity cost.

I was taken to task by a couple educators whom I greatly respect…and by a few more whom I view as the target of my rant.  For the former, I’ll expound a bit.

*”Dress for success” is a dying remnant of the baby boomer generation, and it doesn’t work.  There is a reason essentially every company in the world has moved to business casual or outright casual work attire.  There is no correlation between wearing a tie or pantyhose and work performance.  There is ample evidence that people comfortable in their attire perform more and better.  I’ll maintain from my rant that outdressing the audience is a crutch.  If you need a coat and tie to establish your position, that is a flaw in your arsenal.  One professor told me she just likes dressing nice.  I respect that.  I would still argue that it creates an additional hurdle for her in connecting with students.  There is an implicit differentiation in the student – teacher relationship.  It does not need to be exacerbated and any amplification of it detracts from….

*Connecting with students….I firmly believe that little more than checking off boxes can be achieved without the student engagement that comes from personal connection.  If you teach…pick a subject…Economics 101…no, you don’t need much of a connection to send your students on their way at the end of the semester with a solid understanding of the price elasticity of demand.  I so want you to do more.  What additional effort would it take to get your students to go research the Reagan tax cut just to learn how supply side economics is still affecting us today?  How about motivating them to do the research and math to analyze the viability of that vegan, gluten free, locally sourced craft coffeehouse they want to start?

*It is not just being “fun.”  I absolutely believe that having fun puts people at ease and makes education easier to happen, and funny works for me.  Powerful is not my forte but can be just as effective.  What are your strengths as a human?  Go with those.  Inspirational, conspiratorial, sympathetic, whatever.  Don’t be boring.  Don’t be didactic.

*I’ll fall on the sword for understanding andragogy.  You teach adults.  There is a whole science of how adults learn.  Understand your student’s motivations, fears, and objectives (back to connection) so you can teach them effectively.

*Poor powerpoint building skills, reading the text, and lectures longer than 15 minutes:  not effective teaching.  Google it.  If you’re particularly anal, EBSCO it.  Corporations, who exist to make money and try not to do things that don’t help them make money, figured these things out long ago.  This leads me to my next point….

*A self described “tenured professor” whom I don’t know took substantial umbrage at my rant.  Although the rant specifically stated why I thought I was qualified to give said rant, he dismissed my paltry experience in academia and with derision suggested I was probably a corporate trainer.  Specifically, he said he lectures for two hours because he knows so much and wants to impart that to his students.  Yes, he said that.  I’ll revert to rant mode for a moment.  Yes, I was a corporate trainer and a corporate director of training, you smug and incompetent piece of shit.  My rant is about you.  Want to learn how to most effectively distribute knowledge and change behavior?  Ask someone with a budget to make and whose every action is reviewed for outcome.  A college professor is essentially never measured on the future actions or performance of their students.  Everything a corporate trainer does will be measured and analyzed by what their students do with the training.  So, which is more likely to produce effective outcomes?  Yes, I get concept versus task and all that crap.  It is still teaching.  One is required to produce results.  One sits in the cheap seats of the ivory tower.

And that was really the point of the rant.  If you teach at the college level, you have such an opportunity to do great things for people.  It is such a substantial opportunity cost when you don’t.  Show up, be passionate, strive to be great.  I’ll reiterate my rant here.  I am not a great teacher.  I am an advocate of great teaching and a passionate student of the art.

In closing, an update about my daughter’s English instructor.  He didn’t show for class again today.  However, his wife and son did….yes, his wife and son.  His son doesn’t teach at the school but, “has an English background.”  So, she’s two classes into the semester, has yet to learn anything, and is going to be taught by the offspring of the instructor.  I get this is now more of an institutional failure than the instructor’s, but really….what the fuck?

(You didn’t think I’d go a whole blog post without an F bomb, did you?”


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