Some teachers forget the purpose of community education

Craig Couden, Co-Editor-In-Chief

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I’m an intelligent guy. I spent four years at UC Santa Barbara getting an English degree, so I’m not a rookie when it comes to succeeding at college level classes. I came to SRJC to augment my education with interesting subjects that I didn’t get a chance to study the first time. I stumbled onto journalism as a way to further improve my writing and editing skills so that I might find a career someday. I can say with confidence I’ve had some amazing, insightful and engaging teachers at SRJC who are on par with any at my previous school. However, I’ve also had the unfortunate luck of running into a baffling trend at SRJC: teachers who stifle learning.

I’ve had teachers at SRJC who’ve gone to great lengths to tell my class how we collectively screwed up some aspect of the class, and then did not bother to say what we should’ve done instead. Teachers who make a big deal about students messing up without reinforcing the information that we were supposed to learn seems to completely miss the point of teaching.

I had an instructor spend at least 10 minutes per week for at least four weeks in the middle of a semester telling my class that we kept doing homework assignments incorrectly. Before you conclude that we were a class of idiots, realize that the teacher focused solely on the mechanics of the homework, what type of information we were supposed to gather from the textbook in general, but never talked about the specific information that we were supposed to learn from any single assignment. It’s like getting back a “D” term paper and listening to the teacher lecture about the importance of one-inch margins. Margins have nothing to do with the content of the assignment and talking about them doesn’t help me understand the material any better. I wanted to slam my face onto the desk out of frustration.

I understood the homework, and my scores reflected that. I think most of the class understood the homework, judging from the glazed over eyes around me. I could even understand the teacher’s issue with the students who obviously weren’t paying attention or never came to class. The subject matter was fascinating, the teacher incredibly knowledgeable, but the obsession with procedure drove me nuts. Lecturing about homework instructions without reinforcing the material that the assignment was supposed to teach was a colossal missed opportunity and a waste of my time.

It’s not localized to one teacher or one discipline, either. I recently received an e-mail from a completely different teacher in a totally different department, again explaining that the class was submitting homework incorrectly. The teacher obviously spent some time crafting the e-mail and told us two things: what we did wrong, and that we could find the pertinent information on the syllabus webpage, but not the actual way to fix the mistake.

Maybe the instructor felt the need to insert a little life lesson about how students should study the resources at hand to avoid silly mistakes. But maybe the instructor could have taken 30 seconds to write out in the e-mail the measly bit of information that caused the confusion in the first place. That way, we could see immediately what the mistake was, and have a place to find the information if we need a reminder.

More importantly, focusing too much on the business of running a class—guidelines, formatting, technical aspects of assignments—absolutely sends the wrong message about teaching: that the business of the class is more important than the material being covered.

At the very least, use the class material to illustrate or explain the problem. Then you can reinforce the important things to know, which is valuable to every student instead of the few having difficulties.

I understand that in any class it’s necessary to learn how the instructor runs things, and I’m not asking for answers handed out on a silver platter, but seriously, pick your battles.

It’s acceptable and necessary to encourage students to make logical leaps and develop connections on their own, but it’s quite another to say, “I could easily tell you, but I’m not gonna.” You lose more in respect than you gain in teaching a lesson.

Worse, it undermines my learning experience. After a few weeks, just thinking about these classes fueled my frustration, which in turn caused me to engage less with the material. What should have been fun and interesting subjects instead became painful ordeals.

I’m not here for grades; I’m here because I want to learn. I’ve had excellent teachers at SRJC, and many of my friends and fellow students would agree. That’s why for a teacher to get in the way of education was the last thing I expected to experience at SRJC, because by far the worst thing a teacher can do is stifle a student’s desire to learn.

 

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