A long time ago, half-way into my first semester as a faculty member in the Biology Department at Lincoln, I realized that to be an effective teacher, I have to meet the students where they are. In other words, I cannot expect our students to be anything other than who they are or know anything more than they do. To fail at this basic tenet is to set our students up for failure.
I was reminded of this thought as I read a blog-post titled “Ugly Consequences of Complaining about ‘Students These Days’” by Maryellen Weimer. The link to the blog can be found below. Here is an excerpt:
Sometimes we do need to vent. It isn’t easy teaching students who don’t come to class prepared, seem to always want the easiest way, are prepared to cheat if necessary, don’t have good study skills, and aren’t interested in learning what we love to teach. Venting, especially to a trusted colleague, helps us put things in perspective. At some point, though, venting morphs into complaining, and what we say about students becomes what we think about them. And that’s when it starts getting dangerous, because it affects how we teach.
By meeting the students where they are, we may stop complaining and instead put energy into designing effective and engaging learning experiences for our students. If we keep expecting students to have background knowledge or skills that they simply never acquired, we are helping them fail.
You can probably imagine what this approach has meant for my teaching; I constantly assess my students’ prior knowledge to make sure that they have the background knowledge or skills that I expect; more often than not they don’t. Often, our students are unable to transfer skills from one class to another. Other times they simply have never learned a concept. Either way, I try to find ways to help them gain the knowledge so that they can succeed in my class. It doesn’t take more than a quick reminder sometimes, maybe a worksheet or two, or an online reading quiz that requires students to review previously learned concepts.
You may call this coddling, or hand-holding, maybe even enabling – and I admit that it would be if I never raised the bar but kept expecting them not to acquire knowledge. However, I have found that teaching my students how to swim before I throw them in the water helps them succeed. I am doing my best to meet them where they are – and then moving on to new experiences so that they can become lifelong learners.
Do you find yourself complaining about students? How do you think it effects your teaching? How do you meet your students where they are?
Link to the full blog-post: