March 07, 2007

This one's for the teachers: a question

So I know that many of you loyal readers (commenters and lurkers, both) are teachers, at many levels from preschool all the way up to college/ adult education.

I've got a question for you:

How do you explain to your students that just because your program is small and all of the faculty are willing to bend over backwards to help them, DOES NOT mean that they can take advantage of that on a regular basis?

For example, how do I explain that even though I told them I would be more than happy to answer questions, I WILL NOT tell them whether a particular number is the right or wrong answer.  ESPECIALLY when the question is part of the take-home portion of the exam.

How do I explain that if there were 700 students in the class (as would be expected at a school like UCLA), as the instructor, I wouldn't give them the time of day, let alone guarantee that I wouldn't laugh at them for begging to have the exam postponed and then ADMITTING they were working on the take home test together???

I guess what I'm asking is how do I explain to these children that even though there are only a few of them I am holding them to a high standard?  And that it's for their own good?  I mean, they are in this program because they want to go to MEDICAL SCHOOL.  They won't get any breaks there.  And they MUST be up to standards, or they'll fail miserably.

I will not set them up for failure.  They can't see that what I am teaching them is the VERY BASE for the next 7-12  years of their education.  And if they don't get this, the rest will be even worse.  If I don't hold them to the same standard, they WILL fail.

So how do I do this without being the bad guy?

Posted by caltechgirl at March 7, 2007 02:03 PM | TrackBack

You can't do it without being the bad guy - plain and simple. Sorry.

Posted by: Greta at March 7, 2007 02:15 PM

my answer exactly, you have to be the bad guy

Posted by: Jane at March 7, 2007 02:16 PM

Umm, fail them once or twice and see how they straighten up. I never had a teacher in High School or College that would even think of doing anything like that.

Posted by: Contagion at March 7, 2007 02:25 PM

I know, it's just harder to be the bad guy when it's a few students. With 700 others I could just say "so what?" and point to the fact that no one else is bitching.....

They already don't like me because I'm a hardass. At least in their minds.

Posted by: caltechgirl at March 7, 2007 02:39 PM

Well, I was always the bad guy, so take it with a grain of salt if you really want to try to avoid it - but I'd explain it just the way you did here. These are college kids, they should (theoretically) be able to handle a rationally presented explanation. And even if they're not thrilled, knowing where you're coming from is never a bad idea. That said, if they're really just hoping for the easy way out, no amount of truth or explanation is going do anything other than paint you as a villian. Keep doing the right thing though - the world needs more teachers who are strong enough to hang tough.

Posted by: beth at March 7, 2007 03:54 PM

They deserve your honesty, really. The real world is harsh, as we all know. Many aren't prepared for that. I train in a corporation and it never fails to amaze me how many don't understand that they aren't "coddled" when it comes to work, that they need to pay attention, there will be an exam and if they don't pass, they won't have a job - plain, simple, consistent. I would disagree that you have to be the "bad guy" because I'm a firm believer that you can present it in a way that helps them understand your role is help them find the answers, not *give* them the answers. There will always be the few that won't understand - but chances are they won't quite make it through Medical School anyway.

Posted by: Merri at March 7, 2007 08:28 PM

Personally, I'd address the class as a whole and explain it exactly like you did to us.

Tell them that you're willing to help them - to a certain extent - without giving them the answers... as long as they don't abuse your good nature or cheat. Also, explain that you are holding them to a high standard because if they don't understand the core - or "very base" - work now that THEY WILL FAIL LATER!

I'd also tell them if they think you're giving them a hard time they can go over to UCLA and see exactly how much individual time the professors give each student. It might be an enlightening field trip for them.

If that doesn't work give me a call, I'll run over their toes and smash their shins with my wheelchair. ;-)


Posted by: V5 at March 8, 2007 03:37 AM

Why do you care if you're the bad guy? Do what you know you need to do. They'll get over it and be better off as a result.

Posted by: zonker at March 8, 2007 08:02 AM

They all want to be doctors right? Well, propose this scenario to them.

/begin preaching

How would you feel if you went to a doctor for a life threatening condition and you found out that the only reason the doctor got through medical school was because his teachers and other students helped him with all the exams and answers to homework questions. That the guy never did any of the work himself...

Would you trust this person to give you the very best care? Would you even trust this person to prescribe you aspirin... let alone some of the more involved drugs? Would you let this person operate on you?

What happens when you get out of med school and have to start working on your own - no one to ask for the answers? Will you kill someone in the first few months because you prescribed a medication without taking the proper precautions... or without giving the proper doses? All because you didn't have a teacher or one of the other students to tell you - "that's wrong"?

If they want to be good doctors, they need to start now - with the small stuff that doesn't matter. No one dies if they get the wrong answer on your test - but the practice of doing their own work, finding their own conclusions and working for the right answer will carry over to medical school and later to medical practice.

/end preaching

Maybe one or two will actually get it. The rest never will. And that's how you end up with such piss poor doctors in the world.

Posted by: Teresa at March 8, 2007 09:26 AM

I've found that the phrase, "I'm sorry but I can't do that," followed by an honest explanation usually works for me:

"I'm sorry, I can't do that, it wouldn't be fair to the other students."

"I'm sorry, I can't tell you the answer until after I have graded the exams. I need to see how you go about the thought process to get to the answer."

"No, I'm sorry, but when you get out into the working world, there won't be people providing you with help, so you need to learn to be resourceful now."

The thing is: you're not REALLY being the bad guy. They will think you are. They will probably piss and moan and complain about it on evaluations. But in truth, you would be being the bad guy IF you caved to their requests and continued to enable them in being infantile. Because then they wouldn't be able to function in the working world.

I had a high school chem teacher that I HATED. She always pissed me off. She was so hard-nosed and seemed so unfair and distant. And then - at the end of the year, when I graduated and realized I actually UNDERSTOOD chemistry and could DO chemistry on my own (and ultimately wound up tutoring a lot of people in my college dorm in chemistry), then I realized that she had actually been the GOOD GUY by insisting that we do it ourselves. (She also used to insist on tests that we figure out the correct answer for questions we got wrong, using our textbook and notes.)

Posted by: ricki at March 9, 2007 08:36 AM