This week is the first time in my academic career that I have officially felt I am having difficulty connecting with my students. I am in my 19th year as a college professor, having started at 27 years old. I remember starting out, fresh out of graduate school. I was frequently mistaken for a student by faculty members who did not know me. I was able to easily connect with the students as I could relate to much of what they were going through. I longed to be respected by my peers, most of whom were older than I was. I sometimes wished I were older because I believed that if I were older, people would respect me and question me less.
Fast forward to this past week. In my 19 year career I have never been more challenged by students. The students in my classes today question me more than ever, and I don’t understand why. I saw them as disrespectful, as entitled, and as rude. I wondered why they felt the need to verbally share everything they know about a topic as though I am not going to cover the topic well enough if they don’t. I wondered why they act as though the are the authority on everything, as though I am not the person to cover the topics. I even wondered if I was in the right profession anymore. I started talking to my colleagues and found that many of them were feeling something similar, though maybe not as pronounced as I was. It was then that I realized that part of the problem was that I had spent a long time becoming a professor, and preparing myself for class every day, and maybe my feelings were hurt. I felt I was at a crossroads in my career, feeling disconnected from my students.
For the last few days I have been thinking about this, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to re-think my beliefs about my students and my role as their professor. The truth is, they do have the ability to find all the information I share with them on their own. With access to Google they can pretty much cover it all. What I need to do is make sure I am focused as a professor on giving them skills that Google can’t give them. I can teach them to think like a scientist. I can teach them to be critical consumers of information (so I guess I should be happy they question me?), and I can teach them about integrity and professional responsibility. Maybe teaching the content is becoming a smaller and smaller part of what I do.
The problem is not that the students are different, the problem is figuring out how to change what I do so that I can be fulfilled by my job and give them what they need. I am not one to engage in edutainment, I am pretty old school when it comes to teaching and I doubt that is going to change significantly. I need to connect what I can offer to what my students need. If I can do that I can continue to do what I do at a high level and enjoy it. Something for us all to think about.
2 thoughts on “Disconnected???”
I really appreciate your honesty here. I’ve heard recently that students really can easily access most everything we’re teaching them. What they can’t find, however, and what we can provide them with is context, meaning, and application of this knowledge. As professors, that gives us more of a role like a guide rather than a direct authority. But guides give meaning, shine light, and keep people from getting lost while going somewhere new.
I like what both you and Kimberly are saying. I find that I need to spend less time on content and more time on cognitive coaching and motivating students. New approaches mean new strategies and activities . . . lots to learn!