To read the first part of this series, which looks at the stories of students who forge their way through remedial higher education, please click here.
Scholar, teach thyself. One of the sad realities of higher education is that subject mastery does not automatically lead to teaching expertise. A PhD in physics does not magically give you the ability to explain the laws of motion to a group of students. According to an article by Mike Rose from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, “With few exceptions, most graduate programs do not put much effort into helping people learn how to teach.” A quick visit to any tutoring center or online message board for students will certainly back this statement; students are just as frustrated with instructors as we are with them. Avail yourself of any and all professional development opportunities. You say your school doesn’t offer any? Read a book, grab a mentor or ask those experienced colleagues down the hall for pointers.
Take the risk of saying too much. Today’s student body is extremely diverse and under incredible pressure. Take that extra minute to make sure students understand the stuff academics often take for granted. For example:
- Walk students through the expectations for contacting you. Not all students are familiar with how office hours work, or professional email standards.
- Provide information on support services early and often. Many students, of all ages, lack the computer skills for today’s college work. Sadly, a lot of students also feel that tutoring services or asking for help reflects poorly upon them; smash this stigma.
- Give strategy hints. For example, remind students with math anxiety to “do the problems you know first, the ones you are less certain of second, and tackle the others last” when taking a test.
- Insist on writing standards across the curriculum. Instructors in all areas should require grammatically correct and readable written work. If you don’t feel you have the time, inclination or background to provide a lot of correction and feedback, utilize the expertise of other departments on campus. Never allow students to feel there are times when it’s okay to submit substandard work.
We cannot remain lost and unfocused between today and that future moment when education reform takes place. Until administrative processes catch up with the daily, personal experience of front line educators and students, it is up to us — one person and one action at a time — to fill in the gaps. Most of us have strategies to share, ways that we’ve helped students adjust and succeed, and this forum is the place to share them. Please comment below.
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