Where is the love?

We are approaching midterms. This is the point in the semester where I start to feel extremely doubtful about my ability to play the role I have been assigned. My students are starting to check out, many are ill as the winter continues to keep them inside, and many are getting increasingly overwhelmed with their courses. To be honest, I am getting overwhelmed myself. There is so much work to be done, my to-do list never shrinks. This seems to be the way of the workplace these days.

This lead me to do some searching on what students want from their instructor. I read my course evaluations every semester, but I was curious to know what the ideal form of college instructor would be. (Thanks Plato!) I found a very interesting study published by Beth A. Trammell and Rosalie S. Aldrich, both at Indiana University East. They surveyed a group of 132 students about qualities of good college instructors.

Here is a telling quote from their research:

Students from this sample reported strong agreement with wanting an instructor who was approachable, enthusiastic, positive, knowledgeable (about content and technology), organized, consistent, friendly, quick to respond, and strong teaching skills. Together this may suggest that students have unrealistically high expectations for instructors. Taken further, if expectations are unrealistically high, it is likely that instructors will not meet those expectations of students, only leaving those students to be disappointed and/or unsatisfied with the course (24). 

As a good metacognitive critical reader- next to this I wrote, “Is this unrealistically high?” I mean, it seems like a pretty good list. These are the things I would want from an instructor. The authors analyzed multiple groups within their sample, and they found the no measurable difference in student perceptions across different types of students, specifically first generation students, upper and lower level students, and students in fully online programs. Even across age groups- students who were 18 and just away from home felt similarly to older, “returning” students.

But are these qualities unrealistic? Am I in a good position to judge?

Are instructors people who enjoy a job where everyone involved (students, administrators, parents, employers, politicians, and often they themselves) expects them to fall short? Are instructors a group of people who sadistically set themselves up to fail over and over again? You can’t be everything to everyone. You can’t fix everything. You can only do so much. And I am still a flawed human being. I will admit, on bad days, I walk away from my classroom feeling awful. Useless and ignorant, ashamed and hopeless. I have cried in the bathroom before class and after class. There have been some very, very, bad days.

But if I had to be honest, the joy and love I have found in teaching come from embracing my flaws. I don’t enter the classroom believing I know all of the answers. And my acceptance of bad days and failure, has on some level, lead to this very project. My classes are the most successful when I let go. When I let the students lead.

This has also been the week where I have started to see my student’s WordPress pages start to come together. What started out in January as a strange collection of posts has started to form a rhetorical point of view, a position. My students are starting to claim a little bit of virtual space as their own. And not only are they thinking about their topics, they are thinking about design. They are considering how they want their ideas and thoughts to look in the world. They are taking something invisible and making it visible.

In our midterm meetings, they are telling me about their process. Many have said that they actually are looking for information. They are taking an active role in their research. Rather than merely finding sources in a library database to fill up a Works Cited page, they are constructing something. And they need to know what other people think about it. They want to talk back. They want to discover. It is very exciting to see.

I know there will always be bad days. I will always feel not capable of doing my job. But when I started using the ePortfolio/grading contract approach to ENG 102, I felt like I was handing part of my job over to someone else. I was giving the students responsibility for their thoughts.

And maybe I am giving them the gift of being “approachable, enthusiastic, passionate..,” and all those other qualities from Trammel and Aldrich’s list, about their own work? And they have to be those things for each other? Now that their work is visible to their classmates, they are teaching each other how to understand.

I really hope this is the case!

Trammell, Beth A. and Rosalie S. Aldrich. “Undergraduate Students’ Perspectives of Essential Instructor Qualities.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 16, no. 1, Feb 2016, pp 15-29. EBSCOhost, doi:10,14434/josotlv16i1.191178.


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