Indeed – what does the student want? Learning, of course. I’ve been studenting a lot lately, so I know.
As a matter of fact, I studented heavily while professoring at the Integral Program at Saint Mary’s College of California. You can’t teach Greek there without also knowing Euclidean geometry, for which my meticulous European education as a Classicist hadn’t prepared me. I also had to teach LABoratory, of all things, and learn about Fibonacci sequences and music. As starters, I audited Euclid with the freshmen, fumbling on the board like the worst of them and waking up at night in sweaty wonder (I lost a lot of weight that semester). But I learned a lot and it did me good. My favorite Euclidean theorem was the one that proves that the only way to relate a circle to another circle is through those similar squares you impose on the diameters of each. Try as you might to fill in the rest of the circle with ever diminishing rectilinear figures, the circle will always elude you. This post is very much the square of my circular mind’s thought on the subject, so try to analogize.
When I am the student, I like hands-on work. Give me the general framework and let me find out the details while I banter with you and my classmates. Let us fumble while we reinvent the wheel. If you lecture too much, I’ll tune out. If you cut me off when I ask questions, I’ll tune out. I have an uncanny nose for canned teaching schticks, and I will despise you for trying to contrive cuteness. I also stretch and fidget when my mind engages – I may even leave the classroom and run around the hallways for a while.
That’s great, but I am also an instructor. As such, I find it difficult to say what exactly I do or think I should do. Teaching is like cooking – you improvise according to what you have, having sometimes to whip up some skirt steak crème brûlée for dessert. I’ll never forget my first class – the wolves were about my age at the time and the only way to tame them was smart-mouth them off my back, which was contrary to everything I’d learned about teaching.
Now – what works in one classroom will most likely not work the next time you teach the same course. Even with the same class, an especially uplifting session may be, and is often, followed by a mediocre one. And vice versa. The good news is that students don’t really care – they immortalize the magnificent sessions.
The real frustration sets in when you have an assh – pardon me, a difficult student. Oh mama, I don’t really know how to deal with those yet. I am not talking about the inquisitive type – they are delightful to banter with – but of the ones that poop all their personal issues on you, and blame you, to boot.
It’s much easier to be the student – you don’t have to grade, and you get to write evaluations at the end. I wrote several evaluations recently, while taking paralegal courses at SFSU. It’s fun to be on the other side and evaluate others for a change, but it’s a very, very difficult job, and it may cause you pangs of conscience later. One of my professors there was fire and brimstone early on, a great thought-provoker. But after the midterm, he faded, and so I slammed him in my evaluation, even though I knew that he’d had some sort of surgery on the day of our midterm… I am glad that he was as sharp as ever when I saw him the next semester!
Which brings me to the subject of grades. Instructors’ evaluations of their students come out as grades. I love going through my students’ work and correcting it, but grading I hate with passion. I think it is a perverted and partial form of evaluation that I’d rather see ditched. On the Silver and Black Pride blog, there’s a lot of learning going on, and there are no grades, but everyone knows where s/he is because the discussion reveals it clearly. What say ye, denizens of the academic world, as well as you, normal people?