August 13, 2018 9:50 pm

Norman Eng

Yep, it’s time for another edition of my popular series, What Students Wish You Knew, Fall 2018 Edition. Here, students answer the question:

What one thing do you wish you could tell your professors?

All this comes straight from the horse’s mouth. And it’s all in the name of helping us teachers see our students’ perspectives better. Whether you agree or disagree.

(Don’t forget to go back and read the Fall 2017 edition and the Spring 2018 edition.)

Students in all my classes answer this question on Day 1, and I compile almost 30 of them into digestible, easy-to-read bites, categorized into 5 recommendations. Let the discussion begin.

1. Be more understanding

During my last year of my Associates Degree I had a professor who didn’t excuse any absences whether we had a note or not. That semester my best friend lost her father and I missed two days because I was in the hospital with her. I understand that’s not my father so in my professor’s eyes it was unnecessary for me to be absent from her class because of this but overall there was a death, I showed her documents (funeral pamphlet, etc.) but she didn’t care to change my attendance. Overall, I passed her class but I wish professors would be more understanding when it came to students personal lives.

I wish professors would understand our struggle when learning something completely new for the first time.  We have to spend hours and hours studying and figuring out how to solve a problem to do well on the exam.  For many students, it takes time to get adjusted to the types of lectures that professors give.  Sometimes, professors act rude to the students if they ask questions that seem silly to the professors, while the students are actually confused about it.  I would like professors to remind themselves about some specific times in their college life when they were going through the same struggles, so they can have some sympathy for us and are more willing to help us.

It’s vital for professors to know how far a student commutes to school, as it may take up a lot of their time possibly deterring them from studying more or sleeping adequately. Family backgrounds, for instance if there is divorce, abuse, or illness present, is another factor to consider if the student displays emotions ranging from sadness to anger and the professor scolds at them for not paying enough attention or showing any general interest in the classroom. Maybe there are economic tensions at hand that the student has little to no time to study, say if they are responsible to do certain chores or that they are forced to work extra hours to support the household.

We all come from various backgrounds, as many students themselves or they have parents who do not speak or understand fully the English language, only making communication ever more difficult.

I have a friend who is a female, and [she] happens to get severe menstrual pain at that time of the month. She does not go to the doctor every time she gets it, because it’s something she already knows she has. It is highly uncomfortable for her to explain this to her male professor as to why she is not present in class, but if the professor does not get an email, he assumes the student is just missing class and does not care.

Both students and professors have a life outside of the class, and sometimes its intrusive to ask why students miss class. When it comes to the working world, they have sick days, vacation days, and personal days. Why do professors have the right to know why students are off, if it is within the legal amount of days permitted by the school? It is somewhat imposing on their personal life.

Some professors deduct points whether the absence is excused or not. What if there is a death in the family, an illness, or some people actually just need a mental health day? No one, not even professors, can understand what happens in an individual’s life unless they are in it.

…when a student is sick and does not show up to class it does not mean there were severely sick [enough] to go to the doctors. Most professors require students to bring in a doctor’s note but maybe we were not able to go to the doctors. Some students may not have health insurance and cannot afford a doctor’s visit. Many people also decide to take over the counter remedies or just take the day off to recuperate.

I believe teachers shouldn’t just lose hope on their students right away. In [XYZ College] I have encountered a lot of professors who in the first two weeks have told me that I was not going to pass their class. It is soul crushing and makes me unmotivated. They are so quick to turn down students from being a part of the class rather than actually being a teacher and trying to help their students succeed. Even if it is just one professor or teacher telling a student this, it makes the student feel useless.

Teachers should not expect students to know the material or be good at the material in the beginning, they should expect failure and improvement. Many teachers think students can’t be helped which means that teachers don’t enjoy a challenge and want teaching to be easy for them. Some students just need an extra push and faith to help improve their grades.

I wish that teachers knew how stressful all of the homework, projects, and papers can be to students. I do not think that teachers should completely drop a majority of their homework but I do feel like they should be aware of what so much homework can do to someone.

At a high school level students are faced with new responsibilities, jobs, homework, and are still expected to have a healthy social life and participate in extracurricular activities. All of those expectations that are new to many students can quickly become overwhelming, and it is not healthy for students. Teachers should be aware that students have jobs, especially college students because they work full time while going to school. Homework is necessary because that’s how we learn outside of school but teachers should be reasonable with the amount of homework they give.

The best way for students to learn without giving a tremendous amount of homework is to keep the lecture interesting and allow kids to participate. A boring lecture does no one any help and no one learns anything.

I wish professors knew the anxiety student’s face when a review sheet has little to do with the exam. As a student who has dealt with anxiety in the past, my experience has been frustration, anger, discouragement, overwhelming thoughts of failure, and lack of concentration.

Let’s say I’m taking an exam, my hope is to pass because I studied the chapters the professor assigned and to go a little further I focused on the areas that were my weakest; all in attempts to demonstrate my efforts. However, when the exam is in front of me the exam becomes my biggest failure because I can’t seem to find anything the professor told me would be on the exam.

Another reaction that occurs is memory loss; seems as if all I’ve learned has disappeared from my mind because I’m too focused on my anxiety. My anxiety doesn’t allow me to think back to the material coherently. Now, when the professor grades the exam as a failure his assumption will be that as a student I did not study; when truly I did.

2. Take the time to know us

I wish professors understood that some students never had a good quality education. Many like myself attended public schools in neighborhoods with poverty, crime, and a diverse population where many people living in these communities had just migrated to the US.

Another thing I wish professors knew is that most of us are poor and our parents are poor, some of our parents can’t even speak English and have been constantly struggling to acquire English as our second language. Coming from a low socio-economic status background it would be hard to pay for transportation, books, and materials for school if we didn’t have a job, therefore professors should understand our economic situation and should be more lenient when asking us to purchase books or materials for class.

This adds to my other point, professors should most definitely take this into account when assigning papers, projects, and readings they need to understand that some students are working long shifts and are tired and they don’t have all the time in the world to complete assignments.

Along with working and taking other classes as well, there are those students that have a family of their own (husband and children) of their own. Overall professors should understand that students are juggling with other things in their lives and that each student have different situations.

I can count on my fingers how many professors have taken the time to ask how their students are doing. A large number of professors I’ve encountered have a very cut-and-dry approach to them. In other words, some professors are there to teach and move on with life. If you struggle or don’t understand then it means you’re not putting in the time or effort to better your situation. It’s about getting work in on time and meeting expectations to pass the class.

Rarely will you see a professor take the time and effort to know their students. I find this to be such a meaningful aspect of teaching regardless if it’s elementary, high school, and/or college.

Taking the time to know your students will allow you to know what may be happening to him/ her on an emotional level and beyond. It allows one to establish an open environment where students free feel to express themselves and feel comfortable asking for help. For many, this can be life changing and can even lead to becoming better students because the effort and care are provided to them.

One thing I wish all professors understood better about what students go through is that we as students come from all walks of life. Each student’s life experience and journey is different. It’s important to try to get to know your students on a slightly personal level. Although, we are students in your classroom, view us differently. Do not carry a “one size fits all” approach. The more you learn about us individually the more you can relate, connect and stimulate us cognitively. Who you want us to become in the classroom as teachers is who you “need” to be with us as your students.

Individuals who are in charge of classrooms are not always effective teachers. In elementary school thru at least middle school, teachers make the effort to cater to the various and unique learning challenges that students in their classroom might have. A teacher that recognizes that one of their students is more of a visual learner, will make the effort to utilize more visuals in their lessons.

However, I personally do not believe that college professors take this sort of initiative in their college classrooms. This causes disparities in learning because students are struggling to grasp concepts but are forced to look at it through a lens that is not fitting. I wish college professors recognized these types of challenges in their students. This is because having it present in the classroom is one thing, but to not help the [case] is something that causes an even bigger problem.

Whilst I do understand that some subjects in college cannot be flexible in the way the material is presented, that should not be the major driving factor in not transforming the lesson presentation. To the student(s) this gives out the message that their interests, passions, careers, etc. are limited due to their learning capabilities and in essence saying that their method of learning may even be a disability.

I wish professors understand that many of their students come from other countries and the standard level of their education may not be the same as expected from someone educated in this country, that some of the strategies professors use in the classroom are not be understood with the same ease by an immigrant student as of a national; because English is not their first language and some wordings can be confusing.

I also wish that professors understand that many of those students may feel it shameful to bring up their doubts in front of other students, especially when those doubts are considered common sense for everyone else.

Being a Mexican-American female in [XYZ City] has definitely been hard for me and my family. My parents got their residency very late into my college career, (my junior year in college to be exact.) What did this mean to me, having to work two jobs to pay my way through school, because despite making minimum wage, according to Financial Aid I made too much money to get grants. I could not take on loans because I already had to help pay rent at home and chip in for food. Many times I had to pick work over classes because had I not my family would not get by on rent or food or just utilities. Wish professors would be easier on attendance and just get that we don’t all come from middle class families.

One thing I wish teacher knew about me is to notice me as a student. I did not know that I had a learning disability they automatically thought that I was not doing the work or I wasn’t trying. Teachers didn’t take their time with me to understanding the lesson… If my school had developed programs to assist student with math or having an extra period of math maybe it could help. I just wish that math wasn’t the only thing that was holding me back academically.

For students whom English is not the primary language it is even harder for us to do presentations. If students who speak English perfectly find it challenging to do a presentation just imagine how difficult it is for students who English is not the primary language. Talking from my personal experience it has been really hard for me to present in front of the class because besides having to do the presentation and demonstrate what I have learned about a certain topic and prepare for it I also get stressed because I preoccupied of not being able to speak the English language correctly because of the nervousness.

Even if I prepared myself for it it usually does not go as planned and also sometimes from being nervous I can’t even pronounce words properly. This is something I wish professors understand better when grading our presentations because no matter how much I get prepared just by being in front of the class speaking a second language that is not the dominant one is challenging for me.

I am sure I am not the only one because I have spoken to classmates whom also English is not their primary language and asked them how they feel whenever they have to do a presentation and they feel the same way as me. This means that this is something that students like me experience when we do presentations.

3. How you come off makes a huge difference

Students work better with professors who are actually interested in the subject they are teaching. If professors are enthusiastic and engaging the easier it is for the students to grasp the material being taught. If a professor is bored and just reading off slides, more than likely the students will also be bored/falling asleep instead of learning. Students tend to put in more effort in a class if they feel the professor is interested in the course and seeing them succeed.

One thing I wish professors would do better is to reflect. It’s important to always provide themselves a reminder about why they do what they do. After a certain time, perhaps change occurs making it hard to recall the initial passion that existed for their profession. I wish professors would be more aware how their attitude over the class they are teaching is perceived. The way they change, students can sense how they feel, so if the professor isn’t passionate over the subject, the student most likely won’t care either.

When I transferred to [this college], I was excited to finally experience a diverse school…My first university in [XYZ State] had almost no diversity.  However, I was disappointed when my new friend from Palestine cried because my English professor refused to read any of her essays. I felt horrible when someone in my math class was trying to ask a question, and the Math professor cut her off and said, “See me after class so I can have more time to understand you.” I get upset when professors make comments about minor grammatical errors or mispronounced words, saying, “You are going to be a teacher, and you can’t do this?”

I understand that there is an expectation in quality when attending universities and colleges, and there are even more expectations for future educators. However there should be a general understanding that not everyone who is accepted to attend college are at that level. I feel as though professors need to kindly address their concerns and direct them to resources such as the tutoring center, websites, or maybe suggest their office hours for the student to receive additional help. Belittling and offering no suggestions to improve is not only embarrassing for the student involved, but I feel it directly counteracts the point of being an educator. If students are humiliated or uncomfortable, they may not seek help. Higher education is different because since students are adults, I think many professors feel as though students should have learned certain things already. That is simply unrealistic.

I wish professors could … try to find a way in which students could learn and work in class instead of leaving everything for us to do on our own. I am sure that professors also go through what students go as well because at the end we are all human beings. Sometimes professors give students a due date but they themselves cannot give back students’ work on time, and yet they want us to understand. I suggest that professors learn more about their students in order to understand what they go through.

4. Spell it out!

I wish that professors knew how stress relieving study guides are. Textbooks are filled with so much information that it makes it almost impossible to study simultaneously for exams that may occur on the same day or within the same week and perform well (also with considering the fact that most students work and or have families too).

Often times professors structure exams that cover 3-5 chapters but only ask 1-2 questions from 3 of those 5 chapters (Of which students could have spent more time on the main chapters). But if the professors provided a study guide with the main focal points, students can then manage their study time effectively and focus on the targeted frame works for the exam and possible earn higher grades. Professors often underestimate the effects stress on a student, which also happens to be one major cause of students not pursuing their higher education studies. A little study guide goes a long way.

If assignments were given in a step-by-step process it would make every students life much easier and in return the professor will receive good quality work from their students. Lastly, the most crucial thing for professors to understand (in my opinion) is how important the syllabus is to students. The syllabus is a piece of paper that the students receives in the beginning of the semester and is used to organize ALL their classes assignments/work/test etc. When random due dates are thrown in the middle of the semester, or homework is due and it is not on the syllabus students become anxious and very confused. Try to always put due dates and assignments on syllabus as best as possible. All these things will make for a happy students and even happier professor!

I wish that professors would try to communicate with the class more, and try to see where they’re at. Although I do raise my hand and ask questions it can be a bit daunting as I’m the only one asking questions, it would make me feel as if I’m the only one not understanding a simple topic while everyone around me is able to grasp it with ease. But after class while consulting other students they say they’re just as lost as I am.

I admit that at the end of the day the student must be the one to fill in the blanks that he or she may not get. But in a way by students seeing other students just as lost as him or her, they might find comfort and be at ease, knowing that it’s not just them. All I’m asking is for the professor to ask his or her students at the beginning or end of the class whether or not they are comfortable with the topic at hand.

5. Stop using textbooks

Students put their professional responsibilities on hold in order to pursue their degrees. Therefore they are not earning large incomes. That is why is completely wrong to have students buy textbooks that are more than $50 and not use the book to its full extent. Responsible and caring professors put together course packets that students can literally use as their bible going forward. Not only are they cheaper but they contain many different perspectives on the coursework because they come from various textbooks, articles and research papers. Textbooks are limited to one view and professors don’t usually have you working out of them or they use a few chapters. Depending on the subject, even renting books are sometimes unreasonable.

Aside from balancing the workload betweensix classes in school, we also have to balance the workload for our jobs outside of school. Speaking of jobs, I don’t earn a lot. Yet some professors love to make us pay for expensive textbooks that we may or may not need/use throughout the semester. I wish that professors would just pick out pages that are relevant to the semester and have it be printed at the [the copy place] near campus.

I wish professors understood that us college students are not made of money. We buy textbooks that are expensive, and we barely use the whole textbook throughout the semester. Some professors not only make us buy one textbook that we do not use, but two. I understand this is for our better interest, but its pointless to waste money on books that we can just scan pages and read off blackboard. It shard to make money being a full time college student, and going to work part time. I wish professors realize that because they were once students.

Students have experienced most professors that required them to purchase the textbook. But after purchasing the textbook, the professors end up not utilizing the textbook throughout the semester. That why the students are hesitant to purchase textbooks. This makes us wonder if we really need the book. We also question how much is the textbook incorporated into the lecture. We are constantly in a struggle to decide if we should purchase the book or not.

To recap:

  1. Be more understanding
  2. Take the time to know us
  3. How you come off makes a huge difference
  4. Spell it out!
  5. Stop using textbooks

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

  • This was extremely helpful to know what students are thinking, even if some of them are eye-rolling. I totally get that there are circumstances beyond their control which make it difficult to come to class, but at the same time, they do need to learn to take responsibility, as they would working full time. Yet, I empathize with the student who write about how the insensitivities they potentially face from professors who don’t (want to) take the time to get to know their students. The key I think is balance: how do we understand them at the same time as get them to understand what they need to do? That’s the hard part.

    • Thanks Craig. Definitely these comments represent one side–the students’ only. So I imagine this article draws critical comments as well from professors who think students in many respects need to well, grow up. I agree the balance part is the challenge. But knowing is half the battle, right?

      • I find these to be most helpful. Students are busy and we should remember that before we assume they are lazy. Thank you.

  • I see many of the same issues in my high school students. Finding a way to respect diverse life stories and yet provide a unified knowledge base is what will keep higher education relevant and differentiated from certification and/or online courses.

    • I hear you, Laurie. I think a lot of profs think, “This is supposed to be college,” which makes them less forgiving and understanding b/c they’re trying to prepare students for the real world. I get that. I really do. But with increasing numbers of foreign students, non-traditional students, & minority students, being more understanding will go far. Balanced with reality of course.

  • Should we provide baby food for them as well? And spoon it into their mouths? All these moments are learning moments for people becoming adults (#adulting) and they are to sheltered and babied to realize it. Do they even know that a professor has to spend time grading, researching, publishing, and providing service to the community? I can’t be bending the syallbus I create at the beginning left and right for individual students. I would go crazy. Colleges need to manage students expectations better.

    • I doubt many students ever think about professors doing all those things you mentioned, in between their jobs, their social obligations, their school, and their families, in the same the way I think we all sometimes are overly preoccupied with our own lives. At the same time, yeah, there is such a thing as going too far. Bending the syllabus “left and right” would qualify as “catering” in my mind, and I wouldn’t recommend that either. I do think always keeping their situations in mind can be helpful to planning. And I do agree colleges can manage student expectations more.

  • In terms of textbooks, some of us, non-tenured instructors are forced to teach standardized syllabi with standard texts–we have no choice in this. We also are usually never asked to give an opinion on the texts before they are chosen. Therefore, we can do nothing except use as much of these books as possible and justify their purchase. Course packs are problematic in our university because the only copy place that will create them is quite a distance from campus–more than five miles–making it impossible for students without cars to go buy them. Almost none of our dormitory students have vehicles so they are immediately put in a troubling bind.

  • I can live with this but also wish there was a what tutors wish students knew: that taking notes in class makes organising and recalling so much easier; that attempting every assignment is a way to cement learning; that proof-reading your writing (not simply running it through a spell-checker) would measurably improve your grade; that leaving your phone off and not checking email and social media in class is common courtesy.

  • Dr. Eng,
    Your “what students wish you knew” was extremely intuitive. As a clinical professor, I understand the student’s struggles. I teach in a rural university where students come from meager backgrounds. Our nursing programs tries to offset some of the cost of texts and other resources with grant funds. The other comments about faculty engagement and “getting to know your students” is a strategy that is ongoing. It is good to hear what the student’s think and is equally important for faculty to understand. I appreciate you sharing this information and will certainly share it with my colleagues. Thanks again. The feedback was truly enlightening.

  • I can understand the concerns voiced by the students. I am teaching at an institution now that required faculty to complete a rigor form to show time on task for each week of the course. The research on this practice does not support using time on task as promoting learning. I did balk at doing it and voiced my concerns, but it is the school policy. Sigh.

    I have taught for quite a few years. The one disturbing thing I observed repeatedly is students wanted compassion and understanding from their instructors, but they did not extend that same compassion and understanding towards their fellow students. They could be quite merciless towards each other.

    One last point. They need to take notes during class and not rely on the PowerPoint slides as a substitute. The act of taking notes keeps them mentally engaged and they do not need to take copious notes, they simply need to jot down anything that strikes them.

    I find study guides really hard to write and many students would complain about them. I am thinking maybe I should ask them to write out what think they should know for the exam, something like a student generated study guide.

    • I agree about the PowerPoint slides not acting as substitute for notes. Perhaps instead of study guide, just a skeleton outline of your slides? Major sections that they need to fill in based on your lecture? This addresses the limited time you have (skeleton outline just requires that you list the major headings/topics) as well as providing structure for students to study from. Thoughts?

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