- Students want to be heard; they do not want to be lumped in with all their classmates.
- Policies and procedures have no room for those that struggle or need occasional help.
- Students want a connection with faculty and appreciate the time and help.
Sherri Singer is a Professor and Department Head for Social & Behavioral Sciences at Alamance Community College in North Carolina.
In a recent conversation with students, I asked, “What would you like your professors to know? What do you want them to know about college students? What would you tell them anonymously?” I received a 30-minute lecture on how we treat everyone the same. At first that sounded great, until I truly listened. The takeaway from the conversation was that all students are not equal. We have three distinct groups: those who skip and cheat, those who struggle and succeed and those who excel and need enrichment. The latter two expressed their discontent with consistently being lumped with the first. Their comments were thought-provoking.
“Please look at me, hear me and not those that cheat.”
We all know how to deal with those that skip and cheat. Our syllabus is full of policies and procedures dealing with honor codes, plagiarism and make-up policies. We have been burned by students and now we shroud ourselves in protective policies. The policies and procedures sound harsh with no room for those that struggle or just need the occasional help. They send a clear message that we anticipate cheating, take pleasure in discovering it and glee in punishing students. Instructors have dealt with so much cheating that it’s fogged our academic mirror. Did I go to school to become the honor code police or to teach? And more importantly, do I now view students through a suspicious lens? What tone do I use when addressing the class? And more importantly what message does that send to those who struggle yet succeed and those who excel?
“Most students are afraid of office hours.”
Wait, what? I sit alone in my office and no one ever comes? Why? I try to be warm and fuzzy in class, I encourage office hours. Or do I? The message was loud and clear. Students don’t understand what’s supposed to happen in office hours. What would they talk about? How would they ask for help? It’s embarrassing to admit they don’t understand. When I asked students how to fix it, the answer was simple. Describe what happens in office hours. Offer specific help at specific times. Be clear: I’ll help you learn how to use this equation, write an essay or form your thesis statement. Make office time valuable by describing the meeting and ensuring students that you are there to help.
“We appreciate those videos you post and the work you put into your LMS.”
As I talked with students, they recognized that not all course supplements and online courses were equal. They appreciate and recognize the time it takes to create a quality supplement meant for students’ success. They also appreciate the posted lecture videos and handouts. My question was, “doesn’t that encourage students to skip?” The answer was simple, “but what about me?”
What about a student who is struggling and needs to watch that lecture or missed it due to an appointment? What about the student who just needs to review because they can’t take it all in the first time? Students understand that many of their peers will not make good choices. The message was loud and clear. See me the student who struggles and needs to view that again. See me the student who excels but missed due to a doctor’s appointment.
It’s not you, it’s not me; it’s LIFE.
Students indicated that they felt instructors took their classes and students’ success personally.
Students have to prioritize their class load. This balancing act can include deciding which exams to study more for based on the course, major requirement or value of the exam. What happens if a student has a paper due, along with two final exams? They often have to make a choice. Students are working more now than ever before. Those that show up to the workplace, work longer and harder hours than before. Their employers are more demanding and less likely to work with them about their schedules, especially since they now know about online learning. Students value their families and want to participate in those life events now more than ever. It is important for them to attend gatherings, especially funerals with their families. They have missed out on life, and they want to participate. Many of the choices students make are forced choices. Life happens and they have to respond the best they can.
“Please listen, read and respond.”
This generation of students has grown up with social media and electronic communication and they still struggle with it. Many agonize over what to write and what’s appropriate. Should this be a long email with an explanation? A short, quick question? How should I respond to the professor’s answer? Do I say thank you? What seems like a simple straightforward question causes panic for some students. What if they think I’m stupid? Students asked that we read those emails and respond in a way they know we read them. While it may seem like that one-word—yes or no—response is appropriate, students need elaboration. They want a connection with faculty.
The longer I listened, the clearer the message became. See me, listen to me and please do not lump me in with all of my classmates. Yes, I know there are students who slack and cheat, but they are not all of us.
And PS: Most students have COVID when they say they do!
To hear more about how misconceptions about students can create obstacles to learning, watch the recordings from our two-part webinar, “Overcoming the Hurdles to Learning.”