Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dear Professor......It's Good You Don't Call Yourself A Teacher

Recently, a college professor of philosophy at the University of Houston-Clear Lake published a message to his incoming freshmen about what they could expect from him when they arrive in his class this fall (see complete article here).
He went on a virtual tirade of professional threats/promises centered around the fact that, according to him, he’s not their teacher, but their professor.  Additionally, he painted a picture of K-12 education teaching and learning that is ignorant at best and arrogant at worst.
One of his central mantras said, “It is no part of my job to make you learn.  At university, learning is your job - and yours alone.  My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge.”

This is problematic on many fronts.  
One, the tone is not one of inspiration or of leadership, but rather an arrogant one that is condescending, intimidating and even threatening.
Two, it really relieves him of responsibility. In what profession, could one state that the product of their job is completely reliant on the consumer, recipient or customer? I would not want my doctor to say that my healing or cure is up to me.  If I ever needed a lawyer and hired one, I would hope he would not say that my defense is up to me. You get the idea. For this college professor, his product, purpose or end game should be student learning. And he has absolved himself of this responsibility completely.
Finally, it’s completely ignorant of educational research.  Maybe the college researcher needs to bone up on educational research.  Most educators acknowledge a few foundational elements of learning.  And although high levels of learning can occur when the students takes high degrees of ownership, learning is truly maximized, optimized and realized when students have positive interactions with both their peers and instructors.  In other words, teachers are at the heart of real learning.  I’m not sure where this professor learned that teaching, or for that matter learning, was not part of his professorial duties.

He explains that his students are from one culture and he from another.  He’s from academia - rich in tradition, while they are from some strange tradition-free place called real life.
Well professor, if your attitude represents academia, then I’m happy to be associated with the students and the real world. 
I’m proud to be part of the K-12 community that has always focused on teaching and learning. Indeed, we have been challenged with many things aimed at supporting the learning of our students. These include, but are not limited to relationship building, technology integration, curriculum development, professional development and learning, peer collaboration, parent and community communication, assessment and more.  And although this list paints a picture of education that is often challenging, overwhelming and even frustrating, it is at least focused on the student and what students need.
That’s the rub professor.  True education and learning approaches students as the customers and their teachers, professors, administrators or others as service providers.  We are here to meet students where they are and get them, all of them, to be successful. Also professor, your students are paying you for this.
If this professor represents the standard higher education attitude towards students (and I certainly hope that he doesn’t), then no wonder that the college graduation and success rates are so dismal.  No wonder many students drop out or do not complete. No wonder so many cannot find gainful employment even upon college completion.

If one is in the education business, students are our ultimate customers.  This does not mean that we cater to them at all costs, or that we don’t use our expertise in decision-making. Indeed, it’s quite the contrary. Our role as teacher and directors of learning are irreplaceable.  To learn and again maximize success, students need us, their teachers, to challenge them, support them, guide them, mentor them, listen to them, push them and lead them. They are the customers and we are the servants or educational customer representatives.
I don’t have all the answers to our educational challenges, but telling our students that “it’s all on them” certainly cannot be the response or plan.  
Good luck next year professor. If your university surveys your students at the end of the class (and I hope they do), I would love to see the results. I can promise you one thing: I will never pay you to not teach me.

(Photos courtesy of Foter)

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