Tag Archives: student satisfaction

Even Teachers Get the Blues

(With apologies to k.d. lang. Without apologies to  Gus Van Sant.)

In response to a forum discussion on teacher-rating sites, someone posted a link to this blog: Rate Your Students.

I also posted about disillusion. But the teacher in my post was meant more as a fictional character than as a personification of my own attitude.

Simply put,  despite some frustrations, I’m quite satisfied with my teaching life. Not necessarily because I get positive feedback from students. But because teaching is rewarding in many ways.

Been meaning to blog about the Spirit of Inquiry conference during which I presented on learning materials. It was quite interesting a context. Like-minded teachers from all over Canada, from many different disciplines and institutional backgrounds. Everyone pretty much in agreement on the necessity to think about teaching in a diversity of ways. A lot of thoughtful discussion about rather deep issues.  Almost as welcoming as the food and culture conference during which I talked about craft beer culture. So I’m thinking about teaching quite a bit.

I have been more impressed by students than by fellow teachers. Oh, some students are difficult to deal with, at times. But every single one of them has something interesting to contribute to any course they take. While I realise that this attitude sounds like the bursting blossom idealism decried by the aforementioned blog, I don’t mind saying it.

Here’s why: I don’t really feel disillusioned because I don’t recall ever being “illusioned.”

I’ve met a lot of teachers in my young life. My mother married two teachers and teachers do tend to connect with other teachers. My father (my mother’s second husband) transmitted part of his teaching philosophy to me. As [name-dropping]daddy was trained by Jean Piaget[/name-dropping], this teaching philosophy of his was quite specific. Yes, constructivism and all that. But also a certain dose of cynicism, especially toward blanket statements about student performance. This made me somewhat impervious to teaching disappointment.

In English-speaking parts of North America, there’s a lot of what I think of as “studies have shown” perspectives on learning. A good deal of blind trust for results of survey research on teaching effectiveness. These survey research projects often emphasize the most common responses to teaching. In the mind of some of these people, learning is something that the majority of students should do when a teacher is “good.” Teaching effectiveness is obvious when a majority of students have “learnt their lesson,” so to speak. As you might guess, I don’t relate very well to these views. I respect the people who hold them but I feel a disconnect between my views of teaching and their views of learning. Sure, I adapt to these views when I teach in an environment where they are held by a good number of people. But I wish to keep some distance from these views.

The part I don’t like is when we (as teachers) are told to use very specific methods in order to ensure student learning. I really don’t have a problem with tips and tricks for teaching. They’re very inspiring and can really enhance teaching experience. What I’m less enthusiastic about is the type of “you should teach in blocks of 20 minutes at a time because studies have shown that students tend to have a difficult time concentrating for more than 20 minutes at a time.” I understand the effects of the “change-up” (switching from one task to another during a class period) and I have started to implement a teaching strategy which does involve a variety of interaction modes during a given class period. Yet the notion that “The One Way to Teach” implies piecemeal development is quite foreign to me.

“Where I come from,” we could have seminars lasting for seven straight hours and everyone’s attention seemed quite focused. Oh, sure, I’m pretty sure many people were daydreaming when others were talking. But that daydreaming was quite relevant to the discussion. Kind of like the “drift-off moment” in a successful sales pitch. The whole “what you say makes me think of,” with surprising and satisfying results. For instance, it’s easy to imagine the response “your talking about aesthetics makes me think of baking.” Sounds absurd at first, but it can be very useful. We’re merging horizons, pushing inter-subjectivity. We’re not making sure everyone remembers everything that has been said. There are recording devices for that.

Am I ranting? Maybe. But not about people themselves. If I’m venting frustrations, it’s because I enjoy what I do in the classroom and want to go several steps forward.

I do dream about teaching fairly regularly. In fact, when I woke up this morning, I was thinking about my own concept of critical thinking as it relates to my teaching philosophy. I would assume that it means that I was dreaming about teaching, probably because of the conference. Unfortunately for those who really think about learning and teaching, many people merely use “critical thinking” or “skill transfer” as buzzphrases to convince administrators that what they do is trendy. Fortunately, most of the conference attendees were using such concepts as “social constructivism” and “inquiry-based learning” in non-buzzphrase ways.

Still lots to say about teaching. But true to my RERO resolution,  I will leave it at that, for now.

McGill and UofT Ranked

Speaking of university rankings, McGill University describes its presence in the Princeton Review as praise. Their actual rankings in distinct categories are [drumroll, please…]:

The first category (rare class discussions) is surprising to me because, in my experience (taught at two universities in Quebec, two in Indiana, two in Massachusetts, and one in New Brunswick), university students in Quebec tend to discuss quite openly in class, much more so than U.S. students. But these rankings are based on perception, not analysis of classroom behaviour, AFAIK. And McGill has a high proportion of students from the United States.

In my mind, Concordia University would be likely to rank higher in “race/class interaction” as it’s a well-known part of people’s experience there (faculty, students, and administrators frequently discuss diversity issues). And since Concordia’s campus is quite close to McGill’s, it’s quite possible that Concordia would rank close to McGill for the “college town” category. Although, McGill students tend to live close to campus (including in the so-called McGill Ghetto) while Concordia students are scattered across town. Still, Montreal is considered a cool “college town” by people who attend all of its four universities.

The other Canadian university in the Princeton Review rankings is University of Toronto, which is similarly “praised“:

Hmmm… Where’s the UofT press release about its consecration by The Princeton Review? Can’t wait to see how they spin it. “At UofT, we pride ourselves for our groundbreaking approach to teaching. Students are encouraged to work by themselves, without the hassles of communicating with their professors or with their fellow students.”

Of course, those rankings aren’t based on stereotypes or frivolous factors. After all, which serious ranking wouldn’t have a category for “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians?” Maybe rankings made by “Dr. Martens-Wearing, Tree-Cutting, Non-Smoking Omnivores.”
It’s quite difficult to compare Canadian universities with those in the U.S. because the systems are quite different from one another. For instance, tuition fees at (publicly-funded but private university) McGill are quite low ($1,668 for “Out-of-State Tuition”) and a full bachelor’s degree in one of Quebec’s universities is typically three years (because Quebec has a separate program between high school and university). So a full degree at McGill can cost less than $6,000. The “Best Value College” according to The Princeton Review is the University of Central Florida which charges $17,017 a year for Out-of-State students. Other expenses seem fairly similar between these two universities. UCF’s ranking is 16th for “Their Students (Almost) Never Study,” which is obviously a very important factor in selecting an institution of higher learning. We wouldn’t want these kind souls to be wasting their time studying! So, “best value” in the U.S. is quite different from “best value” in Canada. (AFAIK, no Canadian university charges as much as $17,000 a year in tuition fees.)

Ah, well…