Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Teacher's too smart

As I was wasting time (precious time of which I have very little, I might add) on facebook (my id is more powerful than just about anything), I came across one of the students I'm fb friends with in a conversation where one of the students used as a reason not to take a class with a particular professor that the professor is "too smart for me." 

Quite some time ago, a very wise friend of mine who works closely with students who have academic difficulties told me that when students say that a particular professor is 'brilliant' this invariably means that the student is unable to follow what the professor is saying and, yes, this certainly deflated me since I was taking student perception that I was brilliant as evidence that I was, well, brilliant.

There is something terribly wrong in a system that takes students and makes them believe that if they don't understand something that this is a flaw in them and not a flaw in the presentation.  Of course this happens to everyone and it's interesting to note when lack of understanding is a fault of the person who doesn't understand (I don't understand Ingmar Bergman films and feel less intelligent because of this) or when the lack is the person who is trying to communicate (if directions for assembling something make no sense, I rarely take this as evidence about my abilities).

Obviously, lack of understanding is not always evidence of the same thing.  Sometimes it's the person trying to understand and sometimes it's the person who's trying to communicate.  I think I'm pretty good at figuring out when it's my fault and when it's the other person's fault, but how do I figure that out?  And how do I help students figure it out?

But, seriously, no student should avoid taking a class because the professor is 'too smart for them.'  I can't imagine a possible world where a teacher being remarkably intelligent would be a good reason to not take a class.  Unless there's a corresponding belief that really intelligent people are unable to communicate to less intelligent people.  And, now that I think about it, I think that there is this belief. 

I'll have to ponder this a bit.  More later.

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