Colleges years are stressful times, and students can benefit from good advice given by people who know what they’re going through. Often that advice comes from other current or former students; after all, who knows a student’s issues better than a fellow student? Well, sometimes a teacher does. The advantage that a teacher has is that they’re able to stay outside of the stress and emotion that the student is experiencing, and provide thoughtful, rational, and helpful suggestions to solve the problems that they’ve watched crop up over and over again in their classrooms. A new website created by two university professors gives students the resources they need to make the most of their college years.
UV: Prof. Pecoraro, you talk about your love of teaching and the importance of helping instructors find ways to work with their students to develop a good environment for learning. If a student isn’t finding that connection with their teacher, what can the student do to improve the situation?
David Pecoraro (DP): When I began to teach I discovered that I had the ability to teach a student something and they could repeat it and make money. After five years, previous students were coming back for a visit or writing to let me know that they had not just made money on a first job, but had found a career and life direction. Discovering that I was doing much more than just helping my students to make money prompted me to take my job to a whole new level of excellence and focus.
As I became more experienced my colleagues elected me to lead faculty development initiatives with the focus on providing educational opportunities to improve teaching. At the universities where I did (and do) this, I discovered that there was a need for professors, who were hired for the knowledge and degrees that they had, but had no prior experience about how to teach. This too was rewarding because I was not only helping the professor, I was helping all of their students. All too often, colleges put their resources toward many, many, areas which have nothing to do with the most important thing; teaching excellence.
Students who are not “connecting” with their professors can be in a tough situation. Nothing in our world is more complex than the relationship between two people. We are all unique and when we connect, we are grateful. When we do not, there is no one answer that will work for every student and their professor.
In the classroom, the responsibility is primarily with the professor to connect with and teach whoever is in their class. It is the responsibility of the student to work hard and follow the professors guidelines for learning, ideally set forth in the course syllabus. If the student is still struggling to “connect”, they can (and should.):
- Schedule a time to meet with the professor during their office hours. (Don’t think of their office as “Teacher’s Turf,” it is a meeting place for one to one learning, and you need to become comfortable with that which is uncomfortable). Students, get your monies worth! The professors office is also a place where you may discover more about them as a person and not just the person who teaches you.
- Exceed the professors expectations. Do more than they ask for. Not only will you learn more, you will get the professors attention and in doing so, create an opportunity for an educational connection.
- Research the professor! Talk to students who have taken their classes before and understand their teaching (and testing) style. Yes, even ratemyprofessor.com can provide you with some insights, just be sure to read between the lines. Many colleges will also make available to students, professors ratings. Remember, sometimes the professors who are rated low are often exceptionally good at what they do, just more challenging.
- Meet with other students in the class who do connect with that professor. You will gain insights and perspectives otherwise not known to you.
- Find opportunities to communicate with your professor about the course material. These may include time before or after class, an email or online community forum. Even a handwritten note on the back of an assignment or test. Most professors will always respond positively to a student who makes an effort.
- When you complete the course evaluation, be honest and take time to provide detailed information about how the class went for you. Professors are always learning too.
UV: For many students, the amount of study and homework required in their college classes is often a shock, especially if they were previously enrolled in a public school that was underfunded or took classes that weren’t a challenge. Other than learning speed reading techniques to help get through the books and papers they’re assigned, what can students do to learn to cope with an increased workload?
DP: The first step to managing the increased workload that can come with college is to prioritize what is most important to you. This can be both revealing and rewarding.
- The semester begins before the semester begins. With your schedule in hand begin to calendar all your classes and the time that you will spend outside of the classroom to do homework and prepare for the next class. You can figure about three hours outside of class for every one hour in class.
- During your first week of classes, with the syllabuses for your classes in front of you, calendar all important dates including; quizzes, tests, mid-terms, and the final.
- These scheduled dates and times are not movable. Keep track of your progress as you start to live out your semester calendar. If you are not attaining the success that you had hoped for, adjust your schedule to allow for more study time or time with a teachers assistant or mentor.
- When an invitation for social time, or any other non-academic commitment comes to you, always check your calendar before committing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have social time, in fact, you should! It means that you base your answer on what is most important to you for that date and time.
- If you discover (as you review your schedule at the end of each week) that you are spending more or not enough of your time on non-academic activities, then you have revealed to yourself that college is not that important.
To connect with my students, I asked in a class recently, “What is your favorite fast-food restaurant?” The universally agreed answer was: “Anything open after two a.m.” This gave an insight that I did not previously have!
- Get enough sleep and eat healthy food.We make time for that which is most important to us. During the few short years when you are in college, you need to learn to spend your time on the most important activities. Most of us only go to college once and it is this time that often determines much of the rest of our lives.
UV: In today’s economic climate, even a four-year college degree isn’t a guarantee of employment. How do you counsel students and encourage them to continue with their education if they’re afraid they won’t be able to find a job in their field?
DP: I explain that college is about much more than increasing their ability to get a job. It is about learning how to learn, a skill that you will benefit from in countless ways throughout your lives. This became obvious to me after I was out of college. Without the structure of the courses I was required to take, I was now free to learn whatever I wanted to and I knew how to do it. Today, most employers are not interested in what you know, but in your ability to learn.
I also tell then a story about how when I was in High School, they put me into a typing class (with all girls, not bad at all) because they did not know what to do with me. I hated every minute of it! Nonetheless, I learned to type and actually hit 80 words per minute. I saw absolutely no value in this until two years latter when the personal computer became available. I had a skill that few of my fellow graduates did when I graduated. You cannot predict how, what you are learning now, will benefit you in the future.
UV: For our blog readers who are educators, what’s one thing they can do to make their classroom a more productive place for both learning and personal development?
DP: Get to know who your students are every time.
The Student Caring Project advocates a new way of thinking about college. In the current climate of high costs, course cutbacks, and increased pressures on students’ time, students often feel more like numbers going through diploma mills than like people being educated for full and productive lives.
Cross-posted on the 7 Speed Reading blog.
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