Here’s what students want

I wrote a week or so ago about what I’ve learned about teaching since I joined the faculty at Kent State five years ago.  Many of the points were aimed at friends and former business associates who take delight in telling me that they are thinking about teaching after they retire. Good. I hope they are successful. We need more outstanding teachers. But it isn’t all that easy.

Among the excellent comments to that essay was one from Brittany Thoma. Brittany is a student this semester in my PR Tactics class, and I met her previously but I don’t know her at this point in the semester very well. And I asked her if it was OK to use her name in this post. She said yes. So here goes.

Here’s her comment:

Rob, I agree with your comment of “Many teachers should talk less and listen more.” And because you are an educator, you can offer insight to a burning question of mine: What’s with the power trips? I realize we’re students and professors have all the big, bad degrees but why do some make it a priority to make us feel two inches tall? What’s in the joy of scaring students?”

My reply to Brittany is in the previous post – and I would certainly welcome any other comments on this. I’m sure Brittany is sincere in this – and I give her credit for posting the comment. That’s the way it should be – open communication – certainly in education and elsewhere as well. I don’t know many teachers from personal experience who appear to take delight from scaring students. But it has been more than a few decades since I sat in a classroom facing a teacher. Sometimes you lose perspective on these matters.

So while running I thought about this: What do students want from teachers?

During the five years I’ve been at Kent State full time, I’ve had an amazing opportunity. I get to spend time with students who work with me at Flash Communications, a student-run public relations firm on campus. And I get to – or at least try to –apply in class many of the things the Flash Communications students tell me are important to them.

Here’s the short list:

  • They say they want teachers to be organized and to outline clearly the expectations for the course overall and for individual projects. Most are not afraid to ask questions. But it’s interesting to me how many times I hear them saying: “I’m not sure what he/she wants.”
  • They want teachers to be fair and consistent with their grading. Students are OK with teachers having high standards. But they want to know what is expected of them. That takes some communication skills — sometimes on both sides.
  • They want timely, honest and constructive feedback. That’s part of how they learn. But I hear students say that they have received a certain grade and really don’t know why. Try that in business some day during a performance review. For students, grades are important. Many won’t ask about the grade. Giving good feedback is a skill and it’s just as important in the classroom as it is in the workplace.
  • Students like schedules. They are busy with a host of other commitments – most likely including work. The highly motivated students in particular take the class syllabus and on the first day plug the key dates into their calendar. They aren’t pleased when teachers change the dates for major projects or exams – unless it really is for an emergency or something that can’t be avoided.
  • And mostly they want to be treated like adults, with a sense of fairness and kindness. Most really do want to learn. And what they are looking for are teachers who are willing to help them succeed.

The teachers I’ve met at Kent State – certainly those in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication – really do work hard and spend an enormous amount of time helping students in the classroom and outside. But maybe from time to time it’s important for someone like Brittany Thoma to remind us that how we relate to students — even the way we talk to them — really does make an impression – and a difference.

With the Flash Communications students I get to be a mentor as well as a teacher. I’m still trying to improve as a classroom instructor – and it sure helps listening to students talk about what is important to them.  And for anyone thinking about moving from the business world to education, spend some time now learning how to be a good mentor. You’ll be glad you did.

And Brittany, if I do anything to scare you this semester, please let me know.


One response to “Here’s what students want

  1. The list of what students want from prefessors is right on target. Feedback is one of my biggest needs from a teacher. If I didn’t write or complete an assignment correctly, I want to know want I did wrong and how I can make it better. In the same token, if I did an assignment well, I want to know that too. Oh and you haven’t scared me yet, Rob. But I’ll let you know if you do.

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