Learn what advice award winning faculty members have for new college instructors.
Learn how to help students who fear math, especially summer college students.
Understand why college instructors should not criticize students, especially not with sarcasm.
You are going to wonder why I am telling you this story!
I recently read The Devil in the White City. This book weaves together the fascinating history of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition with the macabre, heinous acts of one of the world’s worst serial killers.
A simple way to lose your job.
There will always be students who enroll in courses and drop during the term. I put them into three categories:
- There is the “infant mortality” group who attend one class and then get while the gettin’ is good.
- There are those who don’t apply themselves and then, well into the course, realize that they are doomed to failure and drop.
- And finally, there are those who dislike their instructor and don’t feel he is doing the job. They usually hold out until shortly before or shortly after mid-term. By the way, they often complain “to the boss.”
So, how does an instructor keep students in class? Forget it. Why bother? In fact, don’t worry about it if your goal is to lose your job, because you’re history if you lose a significant percentage of your students.
They just don’t add up … or do they?
( Updated March 1, 2010, with a 7th recommendation )
Faculty members at two-year colleges and at universities confront a similar situation each and every term. They have students in their classes who lack the prerequisite knowledge or skills required to be successful. In this post, I am going to focus on students who lack basic math skills. (Scroll rapidly down to the bottom of this post if you want to get to my recommendations quickly.
You should be aware that some of them will.
Try as you may, you will never figure out all of your students. In particular, you won’t know what some of your students are saying behind your back. My advice? Consider some of the most common complaints students make. Assume that sooner or later a student or two will lodge these complaints against you. Then develop proactive strategies for dealing with this.
Do I see a pattern here?
There are so many policies and procedures to follow when teaching a college course. Where do you begin? In my opinion, the place to begin is by identifying what is in writing. Does your college have a policy manual or handbook for adjuncts? If it does, chances are that you have skimmed through it, and that was that. Not good enough! Go back to it every time you are confronted with an issue that lies outside the realm of what goes on in the classroom and what applies to all your students. What do I mean by that? Here are some examples of issues you will confront that typically require you to “do it your college’s way.”
Even the most benign student behaviors may need to be addressed. Here is an example.
An experienced Earth Science adjunct came to my office to ask me for advice. She was teaching in a tiered classroom which was filled to its capacity with 48 students. It seemed that one young man was far more interested in getting laughs from his classmates than learning about plate tectonics. The instructor told me that when she turned to write something on the white board he made bird calls. This quickly went from funny to disrespectful and disruptive. “What should I do?” my instructor asked.
… but we have them and they must be dealt with in a proactive manner.
I have already shared one anecdote entitled the “Case of the Cantankerous Canary,” which gives an example of how to deal with an annoying behavior. In subsequent postings about difficult students I will cover the gamut of issues including some serious ones such as violent or potentially violent behavior. In my mind, the best defense against these behaviors is a good offense. I’ll share what I mean by that, but in big part it is setting clear behavioral expectations right from the beginning. I will also talk about the way to go about this so as not to alienate your students and create an adversarial relationship. And, when a good offense doesn’t do the job, be prepared to react. I’ll talk about that too. I hope you find what I have to say helpful.