Thursday, May 10, 2012

In the minds of students

Last night I had dinner with two graduating majors and learned a good deal about what students apparently think about me.  I have no reason to think they were lying and they did go out of their way to say that they don't think these things, but that students who don't know me as well do.

I'll jump to the end: students are way more suspicious than I thought.

Apparently, students have a difficult time believing what I say.  An example of this is that I gave them all the exact exam that they would be taking during the final exam period and told them that what they were getting was exactly what they would be getting — no more and no less.  And, yet, apparently, many were discussing the very real possibility that I would give them something other than what I had said.  This is the most clear example, but the students had others.

Of course, I'm not blaming the students.  I think that this is due to an educational experience of 'trick' questions and their general view that education is a game and they are working to outwit the teacher in an effort to get the grade that they want.  Exhausting, no?

And then they apparently exert quite a bit of energy trying to figure out what I 'really' believe and it causes them great consternation when they can't figure this out.  Now, this is odd to me because my sense is that I am unbelievably forthright about my views.  But, what I find really interesting is that the reason they find this disconcerting is that if they don't know what my views are they don't know how to write their papers.  And, apparently, don't know whether they should like me or not.  Again, exhausting.

Lastly, many a student appears to assume that I don't like them.  I'm not quite sure why this is so since many students appear to find me approachable and friend me on facebook so it can't be that I'm that scary.  I am tough and students do pick up on this and maybe this leads them to assume I don't like them.  But, really?  I share with them the stupid television I watch, the facebook games I waste time on and any number of my more dopey characteristics.

My suspicion is that it may be that students view themselves as unlikeable in some sense.  And, perhaps this is a human trait (or at least of the type of human I am in this time & location).  I know that I have a definite tendency to be very surprised (authentically so) when I find out that people like me.  Of course, contradictorily, when I suspect that someone doesn't like me I am also authentically surprised (and moderately outraged).

So, I think I'm going to work on making sure I ask students how they are (I did for a brief time this last semester have each student give me an adjective to describe how they were feeling when they first got to class) and trying to connect with them individually.  I think I should probably require each of them to come to my office (in pairs, since that'll be less scary) to talk to me about the class early in the semester.

I don't know if the other things are problems for me to solve but they are certainly things for me to ponder.

Next post: my upcoming on-line class

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