Best Advice: Teaching [From the Hey Jane archives]

March 24, 2009 at 2:19 am | Posted in Hey Jane Column, Teaching & Mentoring | Leave a comment

Hey Jane! is a monthly advice column on the SWS listserv that addresses issues of interest to feminist sociologists and sociologist-activists. The name honors Jane Addams, a feminist sociologist not always recognized enough. This Q&A is hosted by the Career Development Committee, who solicits anonymous questions and responses from multiple SWS members.

Column 23 (January 2008)

For this month’s Hey Jane! Column I asked you to send me your “best” piece of advice.

At a teaching university, I was advised, kindly and gently, that my students are not my reference group.  Whatever students may appear to think of me (or may say to me directly) has more to do with who they are than with who I may be.  This advice really helped me to disengage from student response to the courses I teach. I spend 12 hours a week in a classroom and I am required (by contract) to post 4 hours per week of office hours.  And students do expect that professors are available for a chat, a pep talk, a review session, all manner of things, even outside of posted office hours.  So, remembering that my reference group does not include students allows me to keep some emotional distance and focus on my big-picture goals (for educating the next generation of sociologists, as well as my own research interests). Actually, I’ve found that I need emotional distance even from students who think I hung the moon.  Most young people are still figuring things out and I try to avoid the seduction of being the “well-liked professor.”  I believe this supports my efforts to be the “respected professor” who offers students significant learning experiences.

As a graduate student I was being chastised for grade inflation.  I was told that if you don’t distinguish between “A” students and “B” students and “C” students and “F” students, in the long run you do the students a disservice.  It took several years for that advice to truly sink in, but now I really appreciate it.

Any self-criticism you make in the classroom will show up on your student-teaching evaluations.  For example, I used to occasionally say “I’m feeling frazzled” today and inevitably I would receive multiple written evaluations that said “she was often frazzled in class.”  It was the specific use of the word frazzled that clued me into the mimicking behavior of the students.

Always have multiple mentors.  At different stages of your career you will need the advice of different people.  Also, you can be a mentor at every stage of your career.


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