Thursday, February 17, 2005

What to do when you have a bad teacher

(Actually I started writing this late last night, after the Anderson Hall staff meeting, and motivated by a conversation with a student. But I actually fell asleep over my computer, before completing it. Fortunately my computer didn't fall off my lap onto the floor. So here is the completed post).

This is the title of a floor program that I am giving next Monday night and a talk I was having with a student this evening lead me to reflect on the matter.

Because I direct AU's Center for Teaching Excellence and also have contact with many students in Anderson Hall, I sometimes hear about bad teachers. Happily I hear about good ones far more often at American University.

Bad teachers expose the vulnerabilities of students at all levels - undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral, but I think undergraduates feel particularly vulnerable. There are closer to high school, where doing anything but "going along" was mostly out of the question. (Studies the Myers-Briggs personality profile test results show that secondary school administrators and prison administrators resemble one another very closely). They may have higher, less realistic expectations about what a University professor should be. They have fewer coping skills and less experience with adversity. The power differential between professor and student seems very great. When students consider raising questions about a Professor's teaching, they are fearful of the retribution the Professor may be able to exact. Sadly some bad teachers are not interested in hearing from students that they are not doing well.

On the other hand, some bad teachers welcome feedback if students can provide it in an empowering and constructive way. Deans, Associate Deans and Department Heads (at least most of them) do care about the quality of Teaching. And, then, there is always the Center for Teaching Excellence and its Director... me. All of these individuals will at least listen to the concerns of student about bad teaching, expecially concerns that are expressed constructively, and they will take action if that seems possible and appropriate.

A colleague with whom I spoke about my Monday night floor program suggested that I hand out stickers with the address and phone on the Center for Teaching Excellence. Students could then place them surreptitiously on the office doors of faculty members whom they thought needed help. The suggestion was facetious, of course. CTE's goal is go celebrate and empower good teaching, not function as "big brother."

I would welcome suggestions about ways of dealing with bad teaching that have worked ... and haven't. Send me a comment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some teachers just happen to be incompetent in how they teach. Some simply don't care if the students learn or don't care if they do.
This is sometimes the problem, but more often it seems the major issue with solving "teacher problems" is that sometimes, the teacher teaches fine for a number of the students but for others they teach in either a too slow, too fast, or unexplanatory (not going into enough depth on a subject to make it logically perceivable) kind of way.
This seems only possible to solve if one somehow separates the students based on there preferred way of learning. I am a high school student (sophomore) and am continually irritated by teachers who just don't teach in a more effective way. At least there is somewhere out there where people are trying to right these wrongs; although I still see little hope for the factories called public schools. (Ha! They should stop lying and call themselves public daycare already!)

8:14 AM  

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