Success in the classroom is more than a letter grade. Mark, a University of Alberta marketing professor, who prefers that his last name not be used, offered some juicy details on what it’s like to give unearned grades.
|Scooped by Janelle Saccucci|
The Flip Side of a University Classroom: A Professor's Perspective
Being a university student shouldn’t just be about taking out loan and doing the necessary work to get a piece of paper to hang on your wall. Stereotypical university students have part-time jobs as Starbucks baristas, a social life that resembles the song “Jump Around” by House of Pain and enough work to keep themselves occupied on a deserted island for weeks. It’s not surprising students sometimes view the classroom as a mission to get the highest grade with the least amount of stress. But listening to Mark’s perspective from the flip side of the classroom gives a refreshing view on university learning.
“I’ll admit it. Going to school I want to do the bare minimum to get the very best grade I can,” says Breanna Vogan, a Mount Royal University public relations student. “It can be easy to forget the real reasons I’m doing my degree when the work gets daunting to finish.”
Mark realizes this is how students think but he wants them to be excited about their education and engage their minds.
“Students want to gain knowledge, but with the least amount of effort or pain. It’s a different time now. Students can be really impatient. Sometimes knowledge is nurturing. Long time knowledge takes actual effort,” says Mark.
“A lot of times what they want to know is, ‘Is this going to be on the exam? Should we know this?’ It’s almost like they are there just for the exam. There is so much more than just the exam, but I guess I can see where they are coming from too. It’s hard to manage the student and costumer relationship. You know, you are not my costumer, you are my student.”
Mark describes how students act like customers when they bargain for assignment extensions or try and persuade him to round up their grade.
So, it’s not just students who have complaints about the classroom. Teachers get annoyed too. But, Mark explains the most difficult part of teaching a university class is keeping students engaged. If the most difficult aspect of teaching students is to create learning excitement and passion, professors want the best for their students. That can be an important reminder of the professor’s noble intentions when students get frustrated with their assignments or get angry with the professor for a less than adequate mark.
Mark further explains, “When you think of all the seminars and all the classes I teach, I stand in front of 1,000 people a year. Ya know, 10 per cent won’t like you, but 90 per cent will. and so there’s 900 people that you’ve influenced and know you and that you’ve been part of their life, it’s quite a compliment.”
Mark describes one of his most frustrating teaching moments was when a student came to him during his office hours to ask some questions about an upcoming midterm. But, as the student started asking questions about the midterm, Mark realized that the student hadn’t done any of the assigned readings throughout the semester. Then, when Mark asked the student to take out her textbook so he could reference a chapter, the wrapping was still on the textbook. It had never been opened! Mark wants to help students as much as he can, but he expects that they put in adequate effort and be as ambitious as they can be. When students ask him for help, he wants to know that they have attempted trying it on their own beforehand.
Many students go through the required motions of sitting through classes - fighting to stay awake while they are tempted to scroll through Facebook - but forget that professors have a sea of knowledge and experience they are eager to share. If students stop doing a mental countdown of how much time is left of class, perhaps they won’t miss learning what the course is intended to deliver.
Mark knows he is passionate about sharing knowledge. He says, “You just can’t wait to do this exercise with the class because you think it’s going to be really interesting for them. And then, when you get good responses and everyone is engaged, you feel really good. And if you like having fun and you smile when you are teaching, and talking or engaging, that is a really good sign. Or when someone asks a question and you think, ‘OH! That’s a really good question. I’m glad you’re thinking that.’ Then you know it’s for you.”
If Mark could give any advice to students he would say, “Don’t be hard on yourself. In your career, there will be things that you do very well, there will be mistakes that you make. You know, be your best friend, be your best cheerleader, learn, and just keep forging ahead.”
Sometimes, students just need a reminder that even though it can be frustrating to pay thousands of dollars to study without any immediate pay-off, the pay-off will come. Professors want to see their students succeed - more than they are given credit for. If students view the classroom through the professor’s eyes, they will flourish.
Recommendations for further information:
Check out this YouTube Video - it's a fun twist on the flip side of a Royal Roads University classrom:
To read further about life as a professor, the book "How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgement" written by Michele Lamont is a great read. It's available through Amazon:
This Forbes article reiterates the difficulties of being a university professor:
Finally, don't forget to visit your university's website! It often has profiles of the university's professors and valuable information they would like to pass on. This is only some of the great professors at Royal Roads University: