Saturday, March 4, 2017

Why Students Avoid and Stop Taking the Course of Some Teachers: 7 Top Reasons

Over the last 37 years in higher education  as student (from 1980-94), and as faculty member and academic administrator (since 1995), I have come across scores of instances  where students went out of the way to avoid certain teachers, dropped the course en-mass, ganged up to remove the teacher, walked out or simply dropped the course whenever it was possible possible. Here are some of the top reasons for why students avoid certain teachers and drop their courses en-mass:

1. Disconnected and Disengaged

Some teachers fail to connect with the students. They are often found talking to the board, or reading from the multimedia presentation or reading form the book, or sitting in the class or standing at one place in the class without much visual contact with the students and acknowledgement of the individual students sitting in the class. Students often feel that the teacher has nothing substantial or original to teach or that the teacher has not internalized, reflected upon and thought about the content of the lecture for a sufficiently long time. Teachers seem to be addressing "faceless" and "nameless" students who appear to the teachers as a homogeneous mass, looking alike and all the same, having no distinct personality and having no particular individuality. These teachers have no eye contact with students. A student who has come prepared to the class does not find in the eyes of the teacher any individual appreciation. A student who has not come prepared and is sitting dumb also finds nothing in the eyes of the teacher representing disappointment or approbation. The students get a feeling that they either do not exist or do not matter. They also find the course disconnected with their lives or their future careers or even their real life. These teachers singularly fail to connect the contents of the course with their own life, or with the life of the students, or students' family, or their community, society or the world. 

2. Pessimistic and Despondent

Those teachers who are avoided by the students are found to be typically pessimistic about life, about world, about people, about current affairs, about industry, education system, about university, about management, about fellow teachers and above all they are pessimistic about the students in general and specifically about the current lot sitting in the class room. These teachers are not only thinking such pessimistic thoughts, but their behavior, facial expressions, and the way they talk, the way they meet the people is glaringly visible inside the class, outside the class, in corridors, in teacher's room and every where in every conversation. These teachers have very few things to appreciate in this life, in people or in surroundings. Such teachers think that there is no significant role for the students of the class to play in changing the world, and also there is nothing in the contents of the course that can ameliorate the distress in the world. There is nothing significant that the youth of the world including the students of this class can do or achieve to make a difference. There also is nothing significant that the teacher can contribute in changing the situation. 

3. Vindictive and Unfair

Perception of being unfair and vindictive is one of the most potent reasons for turning off the students. A teacher shoulders a huge responsibility to treat all the students fairly and judiciously. If a few students are given flexibility in attendance, then everyone needs to be accorded the same flexibility. If a student is given a couple of grace marks, then the same couple of marks be given to all the students. If a certain students gets 7  out of 10 for giving two reasons during the marking of a particular question then every student who has given two reasons in his answer must get at least 7 out of 10. If a particular student is marked adversely for poor handwriting then every student with similar handwriting should be similarly penalized. Fairness and transparency of grading is the single most important thing in the students' evaluation of a teacher. 

4. Humiliating and Scornful

The teacher leaves no opportunity to humiliate a student. Picks up a slow student and makes him an example in every class session. Keeps on making fun of the weak students, mocking them, denigrating them and heaping scorn on their lack of skills. He often tells the students that they are no good, their quality is not like that of the students of yesteryears, they can't compare with the students of the nostalgic years of the teacher's life. They think that somehow standards have gone down and you students are responsible for this mess. You lack this or that skill. Your preparation is no where my expectations and there is nothing that you can do to change your lot. There seems to be a manufacturing fault in you and you can't help it. Your destiny is F-grade and and there is no way you can change this destiny.

5. Hopeless and Despairing

The teachers who are avoided by the students often consider the students as hopeless, having no potential or future. Not only that they believe this, but are not hesitant in rubbing it in as and when the opportunity offers itself to castigate the students that they have no hope of their passing the course; Their F grade is a writing on the wall. These teachers often find no hesitation in failing a majority of students, in fact, they revel in this act, forgetting that too many failures is also a reflection on their teaching ability. These teachers not only create an environment of hopelessness for the students by condemning them, but they consciously and some times even subconsciously make sure that the majority of the class fails, so that they can say that their predication has turned out to be true. Edicts of such teachers then become a self fulfilled prophecy. Taking cue from this hopeless environment, the students start dropping the course, stop working and even start believing that their teacher may be right. The more resilient of students (which are often the senior students and working professionals) either resist by ganging up on the teacher or protest en-mass. The full-time younger students who are too afraid and too fearful of the administration simple hunker down, or just drop the course or try to vanish from the class on one or some other excuse. 
Teachers who give no hope to the students often are not available or accessible or willing to help the students rise up to their desired level. These teachers are often not willing to put in that extra effort to help and lift the student by sitting down with them and resolving their issues. They often do not give the assurance that if the student meets such and such expectation, then they would make an extra effort to help the student achieve a particular skill that would enable the student to pass the course on his own. Many a times, when confronted, such teachers will claim that they often offer all such promises and assurances but the problem is with the students who simply do not respond. I think that the students are much smarter than these teachers, they can see through their empty promises, and finding no sincerity and no track record that backs up their claim, they simply don't take the words of these teachers seriously, and ignore such superficial exhortations!

6. Arrogance and Contemptuous

When the students start resisting and start walking out on the teacher by dropping his course or not registering for the course, the teachers who are being avoided by students often get in to this arrogant state of mind where they start extolling their own virtues and start acting more and more smug, and begin self congratulating  their own erudition and competence. Initially such a teacher would try to blame the students. If that does not work he may even become vindictive. If that becomes difficult, the primary target of such teachers then shifts to other teachers whose classes students like to attend. They start finding faults with those other teachers who are being preferred by the students. Then, their favorite criticism is that the other teachers who are being liked by students, is because they give grades easily, and are too lenient. These other teachers are no good. The students are no good therefore they are dropping out. Only we are doing a good job because we are strict as measured by the number of failures in our class. 

The arrogant teacher often ignores that the other teachers who are being liked is because they have a positive outlook towards life, have worked hard to establish their connection with students, are continuously giving hope to the student, are trusting the abilities of the student, and are willing to put their faith in students' potential. They deal with students with respect and consideration and are not arrogant and contemptuous. They are willing to go that extra mile to help the students attain the expectations of the institution, society and industry. 

7. Transactional Relationship

A transactional relationship for a teacher starts when the semester starts and ends when the semester ends. The period of the "transaction" is the period during which the student is to be assessed and graded. It starts on the first day of the semester and ends when the students are awarded the grades. During this transactional relationship, the teacher thinks that his only responsibility is to take the class on time, deliver the required lecture and leave. Do this for the entire semester along with strictly grading the students on the basis of what the student have absorbed in the class and have reproduced in the formal examinations. Duty of the teacher is to teach and the duty of the student is to absorb whatever was taught. In such a relationship, there is no long term perspective that goes beyond the scope of the course.  The transaction ignores who the student is, how he has landed where he is, why he is the way he is, where he is destined to go, and how the teacher will impact the life of student by helping him design his future and enabling him to achieve his life goals. The course is assumed to have no extension over the life of the students and society.That is, the teacher has strictly a "transactional" relationship and not a "transformational" relationship that requires mentoring, counseling and leadership.

Transactional relationship needs therefore to be contrasted with the transformational relationship where the teacher is helping the student overcome his deficiencies by focusing on his strengths and by nurturing those strengths enabling him to achieve his positive goals in life. 

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