Friday, October 1, 2010

College Too

Yesterday I had lunch in Somerville between two school meetings.  At a table nearby, I overheard a young woman talking with her mother (I think) about her classes in college. I must be forgiven for eavesdropping because when I catch words like "teacher" or "class" or "learning" I immediately go into research mode.  The demographics as best I can figure out are that she was a first year college student.  Once I tuned in, the first thing I really heard was "The professor I have for calculus is a terrible teacher.  He has no social skills. He doesn't even acknowledge us when he walks in. He just goes up to the board and starts writing gibberish up there." She went on in a similar vein about him not offering help when asked, not providing office hours, and saying things like "If you don't understand this, I can't help you."

Besides wanting to tell her she might consider drop/adding the course, I noted that even at the college level, a student's evaluation of what makes for a good teacher was primarily non-academic.  She didn't say, "He doesn't know calculus" or "The way he teaches calculus is too lecture oriented" or "It would be better if he gave more examples." She said, basically, he makes us feel like we are irrelevant. 

The other day I heard someone say, "The world is divided into two kinds of people.  Those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't." I am the former and in my many encounters I have noticed that teachers fall into roughly two categories: Those who teach students and use some subject matter (e.g., science, literature, etc.) to do it and those who teach some subject matter and the students are, well, beside the point. Probably a gross oversimplification, but one with real implications for at least one college freshman.

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