Blog Archives

TMI & Learning

We live in unusual times, don’t we? The value of higher education continues to be debated. The role of the professor, what constitutes good teaching, what should be taught, and how it should be taught are regularly discussed and dissected by those in the trenches and others who’ve never tried to teach.

I’m not sure if the bookending was intentional but two tweets from Jesse Stommel (tweeting as @Jessifer) capture what I’ll remember most from this term:

  • I’m increasingly disturbed when I see compassion, respect, and empathy for students being mislabeled with the derogatory word “coddling.” (Aug 27)
  • The most important, and sometimes the hardest, part of teaching is just talking to students. (Dec 3)

What stands out for me, and based on the feedback I’ve gotten from students it’s been critical for them as well, are the conversations we’ve shared outside of class.

First year students shared their experiences in adjusting to college, roommate problems, learning disabilities, mental health problems and simple homesickness. They asked questions about study abroad, internships, resumes, and majors. A few shared concerns about studying what interests them v. what they’re family wants or expects. Seniors are similarly filled with excitement and anxieties, for different reasons. Graduation looms. Career and graduate school will soon shift from “plan” to “reality.” Sometimes plans will not be achieved because they fell short academically, or because they realize it’s just not going to work.

Getting students to open up doesn’t just happen. They’ve got to feel comfortable, safe and welcome to be open. For that to occur, the teacher needs to be a real person, someone students trust. That requires some amount of disclosure. But how much? In what areas and context? Two recent pieces, and the sharply worded responses to each, highlight the risks of teacher sharing:

Should I Tell My Students I Have Depression? NYTimes, 12/14/16

Don’t Smile (You’re on Camera) Inside HigherEd, 12/12/16

To teach content and ignore the personal aspects of learning is akin to filling a pitcher with holes. The content flows in, but soon leaks out. Discussions remain at the surface. But too much or sharing of the wrong kind is also problematic. Professors can be seen as indoctrinating, unfit, or unprofessional. And disagreeing with a teacher’s strongly held views can be a risky proposition for students.

I was asked about my vote in November. I didn’t reveal my choice. Part of me was relieved that the class was unsure of my views. The other part regrets I didn’t explore the issues more deeply. How can I lead a meaningful discussion of the candidates’ economic policies without delving into politics and potentially revealing my own? If my views become apparent, what teacher practices promote students’ boldness to disagree?

In retrospect, I probably erred on the side of too little sharing- by me and the students. A safe choice, but one that’s got me thinking we missed a big opportunity to learn more from the election. Thus, for now, I have more questions than answers and much to think about. Please share your comments and thank you for exploring teaching and learning with me this year.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a healthy 2017.