Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Professor of the Millennials

I have been writing a lot about my students but I have not mentioned how I have grown in the last 20 years.

I started as a typical professor teaching in a small liberal arts university. I was prepared for my classes. I taught from text books that I thought were quality books and challenged my students.  I gave routine homework as I knew from my education that feedback is very important. I did not have any feedback on any of my work for more than 6 years and I could never tell what I had done wrong. I did not want my students to feel that way. Exam should not be the only way to evaluate. So I routinely tested them with quizzes and in class questions.

This is how it went on for 10 years.  I changed some text books. My exams were still all written out and hand graded by me. I felt good about the quality of product coming out of my classes.

Then I changed my job for another university.  This was a similar university to my previous one with one major difference. The fees was too high. The students attending this university were generally the privileged ones.  I had hardly any diversity in my class. Within one year I could see the problem. These students were ready to blame anyone for not succeeding in my course. Even a hint that they were going to get a B was not good enough for them, so they lashed out.  For the first time in my life I was forced to give multiple choice exams because my students were accusing me of unfair grading. This had never happened to me before. I had only two grade challenges in my life, even now,  after 20 yrs.  All this really bummed me out.  So I looked for another job.

I found one in a nice college that had a lot of diversity in student and faculty.  Great I thought! Well....not so fast!

It turns out there is a great difference between a Masters and PhD professor. And from what I saw in my department, the MS graduated professors did not challenge the students as much as I would. It turned out to be a popularity contest. Anyone demanding quality product would not be popular. But students also don't demand quality, they demand good grades.

The other problem I faced was the type of students I was getting: there is no quality control, there was no prerequisite and there was also not a great demand on the student to do well in the courses. It became a catch-22 for me. I was required to teach at a lower level, give easy grades and not worry about the product or the long term learning consequence for the student! This was a big eye opener for me.

I also saw that most students just did not have the time to study, they are working, taking care of family or commuting so much that they miss class. That inspired me to make power points so students would have some notes to refer to.  That was not enough....I eventually recorded my lectures, so they could understand what I was trying to teach. That as not enough because they still don't know how to solve then I started making notes of me teaching them how to solve problems (pencasts). So it seemed to me that I was working more than they were.

Do I see the results of my hard work? I don't know. The information is out there. I don't track the usage of that info because I know that students can pass my classes without all that information - they used to - 10 years ago!! Now they cannot concentrate in class, they cannot give time to study and what is bothersome, they don't even try. They just give up. Why? Who teaches them that giving up is okay? How can you keep wasting time and money in college. Be done with it and start working and do other things in life. College is not is one step in the journey of life.

I have adapted a lot over the last 10 years but there are things I will never understand because I have not been through it myself so I can only sympathize with them - not empathize. I am very grateful I never had to pay for my education; my parents supported me. Getting my PhD in USA showed my how expensive education could be.  Thank god my subject was chemistry so I could get teaching assistant job otherwise I would never have been able to afford PhD.

I sympathize with my students that they have to go through such hardship in such young age. But not all are like that. The ones who have financial aid and have some support should have no excuse for not being better in their studies. But then .... it takes all kinds........

As time goes on - I know I will adapt. Sadly chemistry has not changed - it has not become easier. It still requires time and hard work.  There is no question to what hard work can do for a person. I don't have to do half the things I do for my students, but I do, so they understand that it is not just their struggle to do well, it's mine too.

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