Saturday, June 22, 2013

5 Years Ago on RYS.

You Can't Make This Shit Up.

Professors: be about the students
by Paul Flowers
Southern Illinois Daily Egyptian


Socrates once said that the wisest man admits he knows nothing at all.

Well, it is obvious that Socrates has never had a conversation with a person wielding a doctorate - especially a college professor.

I have had my fair share of instructors at SIUC, but none as interesting to learn from than those that call themselves "Dr. Xyz." Some of them are almost a different breed. I'm not alone in my thoughts. There are even professors that think the same way and have began to do something about it.

Have you ever had a professor that is too smart for his or her own good?

They write their syllabi using more jargon and three-dollar words than the medical profession. Yes, those professors. You know them. The ones that have tenure from Toronto to Texas and may bite your head off if you address them as "Mr." or "Ms." instead of "Dr. "

They teach their courses as if they are having informal discussions with their colleagues.

It may have not occurred to them that they are teaching undergraduate courses, or maybe it is that they enjoy torturing incoming and rising level students.

What they seem to have forgotten is that they were once in those positions.

They forgot what it was like to sit in those classrooms with tens or hundreds of other students they don't know, listening to a professor that they cannot understand and trying to grasp information that they have never seen.

So what now?

The problem is, when a person gets to a certain level of education they begin to think they know everything.

Big mistake.

One solution to is one presented to me from a teacher from my social justice and leadership class. In her syllabus she listed herself as the "instructor/learner" as opposed to just "professor/Dr. Xyz."

I understand that this particular scenario is not feasible in every subject setting. However, there is a way that even a top biochemical professor can learn something from students, if they take themselves out of the way and open up to the idea.

This may stir up some coffee cups in the lounge but that is to be expected. It is nothing to take offense to, just something to learn from.

My parting thought on this is simply for the professors to remember, there was a time when they were in those very same seats.

There was a time that they too knew nothing and had to spend extraordinary amounts of time trying to grasp the simplest concepts. If the professors of our prestigious university would take the time to get back to these memories and think about those times, we, as students, may not be so afraid to come to their office hours. It wouldn't seem like a door with "Warning: may try and lose you in conversational jargon," but it would have more the appearance of a traffic light that's always on green with a yellow-brick road leading up to it.

This is student-based teaching.

This is how the student/professor relationship prospers.

Think about it.

28 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Balderdash and poppycock.

      When I was an undergrad nearly 40 years ago, my profs represented a standard of professionalism that I wanted to aspire to. To be in their presence was an achievement and an honour. To diminish that, like the author suggested, would have tarnished their reputation with me and I would have lost all respect for them.

      Delete
  2. On the "jargon" issue:

    It drives me CRAZY: They don't know the vocabulary (because they refuse to read the text, or even go to Wikipedia), and THEY WON'T ASK ME TO EXPLAIN, even when I BEG them:

    "Are you all clear on what I mean by 'volatility'?"

    [crickets]

    "Would anyone like me to review 'volatility'?"

    [crickets]

    "This will likely show up on the exam - no questions?"

    [crickets]

    Then exam time, a dozen of them will come up to me during the exam: "What does this word 'volatility' mean?"
    (Once I had an exam question on the order of "define volatility" and had at least 4 students ask me during the exam what the word meant!)

    Then course evals: "...deliberately uses big words to try and intimidate us..."

    I bet these same flakes travel to other parts of the world and believe that the locals deliberately speak a foreign language to try and make them feel stupid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People who are like that are in for a rude shock once they start working for a living. If someone has to tell them what they're expected to know, what use are they to their employer?

      Delete
  3. "The problem is, when a person gets to a certain level of education they begin to think they know everything."

    Says the person writing on the occasion of earning a degree.

    In fact, haven't most of us experienced the realization that the more we know, the more we see how much more there is to learn?

    BTW, what, exactly, is "conversational jargon"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; Wisdom is humble that it knows no more." William Cowper

      One thing I found out after I finished my B. Sc. was that my undergrad education just barely prepared me for what expected of me in industry from a technical standpoint. It did absolutely nothing, however, for aspects like office politics.

      Delete
  4. The problem with college newspaper journalists these days (or five years ago) is that they stir up some coffee cups in the lounge. They need to be stirring up some bourbon cups in the lounge.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Education is one of the few things a person is willing to pay for and not get." (William Lowe Bryan)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If, on the other hand, "education" was replaced by, say, "credential", it would be a different story.

      Many of my students paid for the magic piece of paper that they got at the end of their studies. What they didn't like paying for was the process by which they had to obtain it. ("We paid for it. You mean we gotta work for it, too?")

      Delete
  6. Oh, the "Dr." issue. I've also seen students at my institution get all squirmy about calling someone "Professor" or "Dr." I don't understand where that came from--when I was in college (more than a decade ago, and at a cozy little liberal arts college that tried its damndest to make professors seem all cuddly and accessible), we called everyone "Dr." Even the people with MFAs.

    Now, at my institution--which is massive and has many more prominent professors than my SLAC--students cannot bring themselves to call the faculty "Dr." or "Professor." At first I thought it was just some institutional culture thing--that this was a place where professors regularly said "call me Jim" or "call me Beth"--but then I realized that there's a god's honest contempt afoot for any PhD who wishes to be called "Dr." or "Professor." Maybe it's because this is Republican country, and therefore kids have been told not to let any latte-sipping intellectual hold their degrees over their heads, who knows.

    But yeah, since when did Southern Illinois University become "prestigious"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. During my last 2 years of teaching, I was threatened with disciplinary action because I had my students address me as "Dr." after I got my Ph. D. I was told by my department head and the ADH that it "intimidated" them and they would, therefore, be afraid to approach me, which would prevent them from learning anything.

      I made matters worse when I pointed out to him that he had no legal authority to make such threats. I earned my degree quite properly and the university, on behalf of the provincial government, had granted it to me. (This was clearly stated during the convocation ceremony.)

      I shouldn't have been surprised, though. There were a lot of people at that institution who resented my education, even though I wasn't the only one there who had a doctorate. Pettiness was a way of life there.

      Delete
    2. I'll accept "Mr.' instead of 'Dr' or 'Professor,' but I pull them up short if they just use my last name.

      Delete
    3. I was told that I should let my students call me whatever they wanted if it made them "comfortable" as it was my duty to create a "safe" learning environment.

      I recall when that sort of thing was considered being disrepectful to one's superiors, something which often had consequences.

      Delete
    4. I tried "Lord and Master" one year, but no one bit. So it was back to "Herr Doktorprofessor." And I don't even teach German.

      Delete
  7. They forgot what it was like to sit in those classrooms with tens or hundreds of other students they don't know, listening to a professor that they cannot understand and trying to grasp information that they have never seen.

    It always amazes me how they assume I went through experiences similar to theirs. My UG years were nothing like this, and in fact were completely different from those of any student I have ever taught.

    There was a time that they too knew nothing and had to spend extraordinary amounts of time trying to grasp the simplest concepts.

    Yes, and I actually enjoyed spending the time. I still do, when I'm trying to master something new and difficult on my own; that's the fun part, something the snowflakes will never understand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The reason the snowflakes don't and won't understand is because your definition of fun is different than theirs.

      Ever since I started my undergrad studies nearly 40 years ago, I saw that getting an education was more than simply acquiring a set of credentials. It was the acquisition of knowledge and, perhaps, a bit of truth and wisdom. It was the learning of skills that would be required once I entered professional practice. But it was also a test of character to see whether I had what it took to be an engineer.

      Soon after I started teaching in the late 1980s, I found out that such views were antiquated and possibly extinct. Most of my students saw education as enduring some inconveniences until they got their magic pieces of paper. Unfortunately, there were certain administrators who supported this attitude and made my life miserable if I didn't agree.

      Delete
  8. If anyone had handed me a syllabus that said "instructor/learner" when I was in college 25 years ago, I would have puked on it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I often attended in-service courses which were run by "learning facilitators".

      Delete
  9. I realized in 9th grade that anytime anyone complains about the "big words" you use, that person is a low-watt bulb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In scientific and technical applications, Greek letters are used to represent a variety of quantities and physical characteristics. For example, sigma is used for summations, omega for angular frequency, and theta for angles.

      I once had a student who called a certain Greek letter "fish thing". Somehow, the real name for the letter completely escaped him, despite my mentioning it frequently in my lectures.

      Delete
    2. MA & M:

      Omega was frequently "W". Lower-case eta was called by a different student a "funky n", but the "fish thing" was lower-case alpha.

      I shouldn't have been surprised. Mr. Fish Thing was often confused by words greater than 4 letters in length and frequently stared at the board in total bewilderment. He sometimes repeated a phrase I'd mention during a lecture and give it a tasteless, often profane, twist in a limp attempt at witty humour.

      He somehow managed to graduate, but I wasn't surprised at that, either, considering the low standards our department maintained.

      Delete
    3. The real killer is that if he saw a keg of beer being served by a fraternity, he'd know the proper names of their Greek letters instantly.

      Delete
  10. to defend one of the student's points, we've all run across the colleague who uses jargon and tech-speak to intimidate others. "Clearly you've never read Foucout's Theory of Hamsterologyism and how it demonstrates the primacy of fur-bearing amplitude in a recessive Patriarchal Zeta-Model game theory!' There's a difference between "the class will cover "technical term"" and "the class will cover "jargon designed to show off how smart I am.""

    But yeas, "instructor/learner" is gag-worthy.Am I am bad person for think that was on a syllabus in a Education class?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My favorite along those lines (in grad school) was "it follows from the standard linear theory" (and you know that backwards and forwards, don't you?) I use it as a joke with my own students.

      Delete
    2. Peter:

      There was one phrase I kept coming across in certain textbooks when the authors presented solutions to example problem or showed derivations to equations. It was: "The proof is left to the student." It assumed that the students would be either so smart that they didn't need to see all the details or were so enthusiastic that they would spend the time to figure out the missing bits by themselves.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, I could do without ever seeing the word hegemonic on a syllabus again.

      Delete
  11. Gone Grad asked, "[S]ince when did Southern Illinois University become 'prestigious'?"

    I don't know, but certain grad students there thought the sun shone out their, erm, college in the early 1990s. Like many on fellowships, I volunteered in return for conference registration at Big National Disciplinary Conference in St. Louis and found myself at a boring reception with an open bar and free food. A couple of students in a group were telling us about the deplorable changes at "Southern" recently. Some of us exchanged puzzled glances. Never shy, especially at an open bar, I asked, "Southern what?" "Southern Illinois."

    The two "Southern" students shared a not-so-surreptitious eye roll.

    So I goaded them on. "The whole region has changed?" "Southern Illinois University," they said, and left to find less benighted company.

    The rest of us giggled and toasted "Southern".

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.