Remembering what you didn’t know

First of all, thank you to everyone who reached out after my last post. I’ve started replying, but even if I don’t get to yours, please know I read every one and took them to heart. This is a weird and occasionally toxic career that we’ve chosen for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way, but change won’t be fast or easy. Thanks to everybody out there who’s trying anyway.

Another fall is well under way here at Hood, and as the semester rolls on I’m realizing I’m fighting a new battle. I recently heard about a veteran teacher who had a sign at the back of her classroom where only she could see it that read “Remember: this is the first time they’re hearing it.”

Spring will be the start of my 10th year of teaching at the collegiate level; next fall will be my 15th year teaching. To my horror, it’s getting harder to remember what I didn’t know when I was in my students’ place. I sometimes toss out big words, or use notation for something that I forgot to introduce. I’ve probably even misused the word “trivial” without realizing it.

I’m becoming that which I once feared.

It’s getting even harder to remember the day-to-day college stuff that students often don’t know, especially first-generation college students who haven’t had good mentoring. A twitter thread last month, from an academic sending her son off to college, reminded me of a few:

I’m not comfortable with students calling me by my first name. And to me, Mrs. Malec will always be my (wonderful) mother-in-law. So I’ve had to dance around titles a lot. When I was in grad school, I would correct students who called me Doctor. But I never knew what to do about students who called me Professor before I was one. They don’t know there’s a distinction between a person who teaches college and a professor, and I’m not sure it’s worth teaching them about all our weird academic castes. Once I got to my postdoc, if I asked them to refer to me as Doctor instead, they’d see it as lording my title over them and not as a gesture of humility. I just ended up going by my genderless, titleless last name a lot, which suits me fine.

3) What office hours are, why profs have them, when and how to contact profs. His high school *texted him* reminders of homework.

This one hit home. Every year some student tells me they never came to my office hours because they’ve always got a class or another obligation, even though I say over and over that I’ll meet with them outside my posted office hours. Even if this is just an attempt at deflecting responsibility, I should make it more clear that this is a pretty lousy excuse. Also, I give students my cell number and tell them to text me if they need to get me quickly. I’ve done this since I first started teaching, and nobody’s ever abused the privilege. I can see how you might be horrified at the thought, but I’m a big fan.

8) How to take notes. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. No one teaches kids how to take notes. The tool is not the issue, whether keyboard or pen.

Does anybody have resources for how to teach this? Notetaking in a math course is a completely different animal than most other classes. I’m still not sure I ever found a good technique when I was a student. I try to do a lot of inquiry-oriented group work in class, and I’m never sure students are documenting their thought process well enough. I’m getting them to think the right way in class, but how can I get them to leave a better trail of breadcrumbs to do it again at home?

None of this stuff is in our job descriptions. None of it counts towards our tenure dossiers. We shouldn’t have to teach students how to be students. But if we don’t, we won’t just be driven crazy by unprofessional, unprepared students. We’ll also be systematically depriving capable people of their desired education, just because they were never taught these skills. There’s a reason children of academics are dramatically over-represented in academia: they learn all these things from a young age. It’s long past time to bring everybody else into the fold.

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