Monday, April 16, 2012

Student I like or don't

I like teaching undergrads. No. I like teaching Freshmen. Maybe I'm spoiled by having a really good selection of student at my university. Maybe I'll change my tune after several years of teaching large intro courses to my subject matter filled with students from several types of majors. But I really get a kick out of their fresh out of high schoolness, from raising their hand to use the bathroom to  demanding that I do their homework for them. Aren't you a cute little fledgeling. You'll either get your act together in a few years or you'll fail, or you'll sneak past and go work in daddy's business. But by then you won't be my problem.

What I don't like teaching are grad courses out of my expertise. In general, grad courses encourage dialogue, and I get find out what the academic interests of people in my department are. But they are a whole lot of work for not a lot of entertainment value.* And then, add in the dread student. The one that thinks he knows more than me (which he legitimately does at times this is not my field); the one that lets me know his lack of respect for me by his tone of voice in asking/answering questions; the one that is busy staring at his shoes or rolling his eyes.

I have seen more experienced professors deal with the undergraduate version of this student effectively by initially asking them to be patient until the class reaches the point, then by publicly pointing out errors in logic, and finally by ignoring the student's in class comments altogether. I don't think those tactics will work in this setting, and I'm not quite sure what to do. Fortunately, I have other students who are more helpful/supportive/respectful/eager to learn the material to alleviate the problem. I still feel like a failure after each class session though.

*Sure, I get to learn the material in the meanwhile, and usually it's material that will eventually be useful for me to know, but it's not fun.


  1. I totally agree. Teaching graduate classes outside topic can be very stressful. But I have many colleagues that consider teaching graduate classes a blessing. They like to engage in long discussions with the dread student(s) and totally ignore the rest.

  2. The dread student is a bitch; you can have them in undergrad courses too. I think it's important to remember that there are other students in the class and that no matter how you feel about the disruptive student, s/he cannot be allowed to monopolize class time.

    My grad students are usually cool, but then again I usually teach in my specialty so it's hard for a student to pull off that they know more than me... It's some really entitled undergrads who can be really disruptive; I am nice the first few times, but then call them out for being disruptive, say in front of the class that everybody should be given a chance to participate not just a few people, and talk to them after class to tell them to STFU and behave respectfully.

    I think getting older and fatter :-) makes me look more respectful. That, and experience teaching. I actually taught high-schoolers for a couple of years when I was straight out of college; it was a school for the gifted, and I was only a few years older than them, no experience, and was an insecure mess. That was hard.

    With more experience, you'll find ways that work for you in managing the classroom and gain confidence. Experience really is the only thing that truly helps. Good luck!

    1. Makes me look more respectable (not respecful).