Friday, February 15, 2013

“Pay attention, you might learn something!”

on campus: teachers' trials     

Things that teachers want to say to their students

Are you stuck under a huge pile of homework and assignments and wondering what you ever did to deserve this? Exhausted by the endless stream of quizzes and exams that just don’t seem to give you a break? And upset with your teachers for subjecting you to this kind of torture? Then your teachers have a message for you: they’re only trying to do what they feel is best for you, and that’s what’s required of them as part of their job. They do, however, feel that their intentions might not be getting through to their students. So we asked teachers - including a secondary school teacher, college and university instructors, and a highly experienced and qualified retired school principal who has also lectured extensively at university - what they’d want to communicate to their students if they could openly speak to them. Here’s what they had to say...

Shockingly, the first and foremost thing that teachers want to tell their students - and in fact do tell their students, repeatedly! - is to study. That’s more than a little obvious, you’d think, but then how would you explain why so often students come unprepared to class? Your instructors have been assigned the task to impart education and pass on their knowledge to you so that you can live up to your potential. And they’d appreciate it if you let them! There isn’t much they can do without your cooperation, so if you actually study what and when you’re meant to, you’ll be making things easier for both yourself and your teachers.

“Don’t leave things to the last minute”
If you leave things to the last minute, it will show in your output. An assignment hurriedly put together at the eleventh hour will be rushed, poorly researched, and badly done, with glaring careless mistakes all over the place. And the person who will have to mark your work will know the difference. Also, if you leave studying for a test to the last minute, it will make you more flustered which will in turn decrease your retention. And staying up all night to cram before an exam is very likely to adversely impact your performance. So do yourself a favour, and don’t leave your work or preparation to the last moment.

“Answer the question, for God’s sake, answer the question!”
Anyone who has ever had to mark assignments or exams will attest to the fact that a very common mistake students make is that instead of answering the question that they are being asked, they answer the question that they *think* they are being asked, and those two questions don’t always align. Often students fail to get the major point of the query. For example, “John Howard was the second longest serving Prime Minister in Australia. The longest serving was also a Liberal member, Robert Menzies. What is it about the Liberal Party that gives them so much stability?” That’s the question, and it requires a discussion about the Liberal Party. Some students will end up talking about John Howard or Robert Menzies, but that’s not what they are being asked. The distinction might be subtle, so read the question and think about it before you start composing your answer. It’s easy to miss the point or go off track, so trying to figure out what the question actually requires will help you immensely.

“There’s more to writing an assignment than Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V”
The main reason teachers give you assignments and assessments is because they HAVE to - it’s a requirement; they have to be able to prove that they have taught something and you have learned something. So they teach, and then they assess. If you copy stuff from somebody else, they don’t know if you have learned anything. By plagiarising, you’re sabotaging your own learning process AND showing disrespect towards your instructors. And it’s insulting to suggest that you think you can dupe your teachers. So if you think that all you need to do is find what somebody else has done and copy it into your own assignment, then your teachers emphatically disagree with you. Some colleges and universities take very strict action against students who plagiarise (including awarding a straight F to students caught cheating), so it is better for you from both a learning and penalty perspective if you do your own work.

“This assessment was not set as a personal insult to you”
As soon as the professor announces that there will be a quiz or an assignment, it usually results in a collective groan from the class. So your teachers want to assure you that they do not set your assessments to make your life hell. You think writing one is hard; think about how many your teacher has to read and mark while working out nice ways to point out your mistakes and help you improve. Assessments are part of the school work, and they’re meant to help you learn and help the teacher figure out how well they’re doing their job. Use them as a tool for learning and improvement.

“Ask for help”
A number of teachers that I spoke to felt that some of their students hesitate to ask for help, and that they could benefit from speaking up when they have a problem. And you should ask for assistance sooner rather than later if you don’t understand things, because if you ask sooner, your teacher can spend time with you, help you out, or set you off in the right direction to get the help you need, and they might even get a warm fuzzy thinking that you are actually starting your work on time. If you wait till the last minute, your instructor will be frazzled, frustrated, and annoyed, and if most of your classmates end up doing the same thing, the teacher is not going to be most helpful. Plus it will suggest a lack of concern on your part. Your teachers are there to help you learn; they *want* to help you learn. So just ask them!

“Try to have fun”
It’s no secret that you do better when you’re happy. If you’re lucky enough to study things you enjoy, then it will be easier and more fulfilling for you, but if you don’t have that option, try to think of a way to make what you’re studying interesting. Yes it’s important to respect your teachers, pay attention to what they say, and be punctual, but you must also try to enjoy the process of learning and even take breaks sometimes. Don’t see this study stuff as torture. It’s something you have to do, but it will end one day, and hopefully you’ll come out a stronger, more knowledgeable, and more empathetic person at the end of the process. And remember that even though your school work is important, the world will not explode if you don’t get an A+ every single time. Don’t be daunted by the learning process. Relax, do your best, and try to have fun.

- S.A.

 Us Magazine, The News - 15th February, 2013

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