My 1010 professor didn’t show up for the first day of class this semester. My 1010 professor didn’t post the syllabus on Blackboard. My 1010 professor used the wrong answer key on our midterm. No, this isn’t one incompetent 1010 professor. It’s most of the 1010 professors we encounter as we trudge through general education requirements. And they’re making plenty of students’ lives a lot more difficult.
I call it the “1010 effect,” and it happens in two ways. The first way is when an inexperienced and untested educator is assigned to teach a 1000-level course. The other way is when an overqualified and usually uninterested professor is assigned to the 1000-level course. Both are equally unhelpful in their own special ways. Both can do equal damage to a GPA.
In the first scenario, we have the grad student, the adjunct or even the freshly-minted associate professor. These teachers seem good at first. You call them by their first names. They are down to earth. They joke and are relatable in class.
Then they start teaching and it’s all downhill from there.
That’s because they are new or unaware of the best teaching practices, and, aside from the coaching they get from superiors and their own personal experience, are just winging it. Some departments have strict curricula to follow, others don’t, but in either situation the transfer of information from teacher to student is all up to the teacher. If they don’t know how to make that information engaging and that transfer successful, they have failed.
Part of a successful transfer relies on how much of the information is understood by the students. This is where new teachers run into another problem.
Most new teachers are deeply integrated into academia. They are students as well and they’re learning at a much higher level than undergrads, who are just being exposed to academia for the first time. There’s a significant problem there. If that new teacher can’t make the jump from their own high level learning to a style that undergrads are used to, there’s going to be a clash of concepts, and course materials will start to sound more like a foreign language than 1000 homework.
The worse part about new teachers is their inexperience in handling feedback from a classroom, both in and out of class. Everybody would like to think they are receptive to feedback, but in reality, accepting criticism can be very difficult. For new teachers who want to succeed, it can be especially so. This can cause more problems for students who want to help make their classes better, but can’t get through to their teachers. If a student can’t make a comment about how a review session might be more helpful or how quizzes can better contribute to overall understanding, then no one is winning. The students get stuck with teaching they can’t get on board with and the teacher is stuck with students who don’t appreciate them.
This is a shared problem, however, and it can be found on the other end of the spectrum of 1010 teaching, where we have the seasoned, veteran educators who have been teaching the entry-level courses for decades, and it shows.
It shows because this professor is also unreceptive to feedback, but for a totally different reason. Their reason has everything to do with the experience they have. As a teacher for years and years, many professors like this think they can do no wrong. That’s dead wrong. Using outdated, or ineffective teaching methods, these professors often dismiss feedback and criticism from students as attitude or ignorance. They may think that students don’t know what their talking about, considering they’re so young. But really, students are the only ones who actually know the best way to teach a course. They’re the ones who need the information presented effectively and if their feedback on how that is done is brushed off, it can be harmful to their education.
On top of this shared issue, veteran educators have their own unique problem: they’re doing other work outside of their 1000-level class. This can be anything from teaching a capstone 5000 level course, doing work in their field, or working on publishing research. Sometimes, they do a combination of all of these things and more.
The negative effect? Their 1000-level course gets neglected.
If a teacher’s mind is occupied with work they deem more important, it’s easy for their other responsibilities to fall by the wayside. And that means harm to students in those classes that aren’t getting the attention they need.
Our grades suffer because of this phenomenon. But it’s not even the teachers who are to blame, because not all 1000-level teachers fit these categories. Some are dedicated, engaging individuals who love what they do and make a difference in the lives of their students.
But more often then not, these professors do more harm than good. For that, we have the departments to thank. With laser focus on what will please the provost and the deans and thus, bring in more funding, departments spend more and more time worrying about who has the best research and who is getting published, and less time worrying about who will teach stupid ole 1010.
It’s not like the university isn’t doing anything. In fact, Wayne State offers teaching courses through the Office of Teaching and Learning. The office provides a variety of different classes that focus on teaching methods and practices and aim to improve overall teaching. But it seems this office is not being used as often as it should.
And so, it’s up to the departments to improve the state of their 1000-level courses. Take a closer look at who teaches what. These are some of the most important courses student take in their college career. If there are teachers who could be doing a better job, they might just change a student’s life.