Monday, October 29, 2007
Be Hard On Us (but patient) We Need You
I keep reading about the disengagement of students, the lack of classroom participation, the general apathy, etc. Perhaps it's a poor analogy, but I tend to view students as children and professors as parents. Students are trained in law by their professors, just as children are trained in life by their parents. As any good parent knows (full disclosure here, I am not yet a parent) children generally respond to the boundaries and expectations set by their parents. While there may be moments of rebellion, overall when expectations are communicated and there is follow-through children often impress their parents by meeting and sometimes exceeding those expectations.
The same goes for professors in the classroom. Professors set the tone. My first year of law school I had a very parental (i.e. authoritative) professor who set boundaries and communicated clear expectations for classroom discussion. The professor then followed through. When students did not meet those expectations we all knew it and felt the shame, the good kind of shame. We had a healthy fear that inspired us to rise and meet the level of expectation. We also felt a collective sense of pride and relief when we performed to our professor's satisfaction. We strove to make our professor proud and were infinitely rewarded on the occasions we achieved that goal. My first year of law school I also had a "buddy" professor who did not set clear boundaries and allowed students to behave in a casual and jocular manner. I think the goal was collegiality, but the result was near-chaos. We, the same students who sat on the edge of our seats in a "yes, sir" sort of way in the other class, loafed in this class. We rarely performed at full capacity. What was the difference? The tone set by our professors. One professor was not afraid to show authority, but also had the patience to work with what we had to offer and used the Socratic method to pull our best out of us. The other professor was less authoritative and met with students who didn't know where the boundaries were or how to show respect. The result was frustration for all parties involved.
While I hear/read grumbling about student performance and engagement, I also know that professors have a powerful influence on students and their participation. The more professors expect of us and demand that we produce accordingly, the more students rise to the level of expectation and on the occasional, lucky day, exceed those expectations. Be hard on us, but be patient with us, we need you.