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Cheshire_Cat

Students afraid I can't teach

19 posts in this topic

So, I taught during the summer, and my class average, in an intro accounting class, was an 80.  (Generally the average in this class is about a 72-76) This semester, they didn't do so hot on their first exam, and made a 74 average, as did the rest of the intro classes that are taught by an experienced professor (technically a 64, but the test writer curved it because everyone in all classes did bad.)   However, unlike her sections, my students basically were split between A's and B's and D's and F's.  Very few C's.  So, now my students are complaining, and one went so far as to complain to the department head.  I wouldn't be as worried, but this is the second time someone has complained to the department head (one last semester), and my evals were terrible last semester.   I did a midsemester eval this semester, and it is highly correlated to the grade distribution.   

How can I get students to trust that I know what I am saying?  I am pretty much copying verbatim from the author's lectures that he posts on the website, but explaining a little more where needed.  They know I am smart and like the topic, but for some reason they are concerned that I can't teach.  And maybe I can't.  Half the class failed.  I don't know what to do or to say to my department head, and now I am having to meet with him and the Ph.D coordinator and the head instructor for this course.  And I am very frustrated and worried now.

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Teaching is something that takes a bit of time to figure out. Content might be there but the delivery might not. Students can figure out when you're comfortable and when you're uncomfortable. Do you feel like yourself when you teach? Do you feel that you're teaching the way you'd like to teach?

You can learn more about different teaching styles here: https://teach.com/what/teachers-teach/teaching-methods/

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I think the thing to do is to ask for an evaluation from someone with more experience, be it from your university's learning center or someone within your department. Maybe have someone observe a class or two, and show them some of your materials. There is always room for improvement, if not in content then maybe in the delivery, so that whatever is causing the students to doubt your teaching abilities can be remedied. As it stands, it's hard to know if there is a content problem, a delivery problem, maybe a problem of addressing the class at the right level and getting the strugglers to a good level instead of only talking to the strong students, or if this is all just backlash because they didn't study and it's not your fault, because it sounds like the other section(s) are basically doing the same as yours. It could just be that you are not feeling confident and that is being picked up by the students, and is making them feel insecure about the material as well; that could be addressed and fixed, and doesn't mean that you're teaching them wrong but that you need to work on your presentation style. It's hard to take criticism, and it's even more difficult to know which points are actually true and helpful and which are not. So get help from a third party who is willing to support you. 

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1 hour ago, Cheshire_Cat said:

 How can I get students to trust that I know what I am saying?  

Do you want my cynical answer based on all the info out there about student evals of faculty and their teaching ability? The best way to get students to trust you is to be a cisgender, heterosexual, white male. Failing that, you can definitely approach this as an opportunity to improve your own teaching by attending workshops and brown bags about teaching, having people observe you*, sitting in on the classes of faculty who are respected for their teaching (and ideally who share some demographic characteristics with you, whether that's gender or race/ethnicity), and perhaps even pursuing a teaching certificate if there is such a thing at your institution.

Also, when I used to teach sections that were part of a larger course, I'd be clear to put students' grades into perspective by showing them the averages and/or distribution of all students taking the course. I think that helps sometimes because it shows them that the issue isn't you per se but rather their grasp of the material. I then encourage them to come to office hours, form study groups with those in other sections of the course (because if everyone's being tested on the same material then maybe one instructor gave their students a cool explanation of a concept that resonated with them and they can then share with others), and to take advantage of any tutoring resources that might be offered. 

*I recommend getting observations from more than one person because what one person loves, someone else may not. For example, one professor in my department observed me and loved that I was able to get everyone in the class to participate at least once and let students guide the discussion. Another professor came in that semester and said that I didn't do enough to guide students in the discussion and that I should be more willing to jump in and correct students. You're always going to get contradicting advice so it can be helpful to get a myriad of perspectives on what you're doing well and where you can improve. 

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The material (PP slides/homework/exercises/tests)  is given to us by the department and I can't deviate without getting in trouble.  I can't even have them put away their laptops during class if I wanted to, because the other classes have them out.  They are very strict in that regard.

I mentioned that the average scores for all of the sections were the same, but it was mentioned more in passing.  I think I should make it a point to tell the students that the material is difficult and all of the sections did poorly, and that if they are not satisfied with their grade, they need to utilize the resources available more.   I do think there is a confidence thing going on here.   I don't know how to fix that other than time.  My second class actually did have slightly lower scores, but a normal distribution, and they were nicer in my evals.  That class is a lot smaller and I am more comfortable being myself, and I think it shows.

The thing is, in every public speaking course I have taken or presentation that I have had to make, I have been rated very highly.  I think there might be a disconnect between presenter and teacher that I am having a hard time picking up on.

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9 hours ago, Cheshire_Cat said:

The thing is, in every public speaking course I have taken or presentation that I have had to make, I have been rated very highly.  I think there might be a disconnect between presenter and teacher that I am having a hard time picking up on.

This doesn't surprise me at all. It's also exactly why both fuzzylogician and I recommended that you have someone from your department or the teaching center observe your class so they can give you feedback on what is and is not working.

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C_C

Did you look at the responses to the exam questions for patterns? You might be able to narrow down the issues to a topic or a problem solving technique so you can fix what needs fixing rather than doing a complete overhaul. Along the same lines, holding additional and/or mandatory office hours for students who did poorly may help you to develop better rapport and to figure out how to zero in on the students' learning styles.

Also, a tactic I picked up from a professor was to distribute after every section an evaluation form that can be useful for figuring out where to improve. You'll not get many responses, some will be snarky, and a handful will give you the information you need to teach more effectively.

More generally, keep in mind that teaching is a skill that some believe is independent of the domain of knowledge one is teaching. I am mentioning this point so that your confidence in your teaching skills doesn't seep into other skill sets that are further along in their development.

STUDENT EVALUATION FORM.pdf

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Are the students afraid you can't teach, or are you afraid? I feel like it's a very strange way to phrase the question, and it's left me unsure as to what you're really asking.

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1 hour ago, telkanuru said:

Are the students afraid you can't teach, or are you afraid? I feel like it's a very strange way to phrase the question, and it's left me unsure as to what you're really asking.

The students are afraid I can't teach.

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1 hour ago, Sigaba said:

C_C

Did you look at the responses to the exam questions for patterns? You might be able to narrow down the issues to a topic or a problem solving technique so you can fix what needs fixing rather than doing a complete overhaul. Along the same lines, holding additional and/or mandatory office hours for students who did poorly may help you to develop better rapport and to figure out how to zero in on the students' learning styles.

Also, a tactic I picked up from a professor was to distribute after every section an evaluation form that can be useful for figuring out where to improve. You'll not get many responses, some will be snarky, and a handful will give you the information you need to teach more effectively.

More generally, keep in mind that teaching is a skill that some believe is independent of the domain of knowledge one is teaching. I am mentioning this point so that your confidence in your teaching skills doesn't seep into other skill sets that are further along in their development.

STUDENT EVALUATION FORM.pdf

I distributed a student evaluation form last class period.  There were likert questions, which I averaged about a 4 out of 7. (7 being best) I think the two things that stuck out was that I lack confidence, and I need to move slower and prepare more.  I think moving slower may help with everything else, because sometimes I feel like I am moving too fast for my brain to recall what I need to, and thus I don't seem prepared, but I do it anyways.  So I am figuring out how I can slow down some.

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Figuring out how to slow down is difficult, especially if you get nervous presenting (not sure if you do). I think it is helpful to remember that you do not need to talk constantly. After you present some material, try pausing for a bit and then ask if there are questions. Standing in silence for 30 seconds or so can feel excruciating for you, but can give students the time they need to absorb what you have been saying and formulate questions if they have any. Moreover, in this time you can look at the students and gauge from their expressions whether or not they understood. If a common complaint is that you go too fast, I think this could make a huge difference. 

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On 10/16/2016 at 10:58 PM, Cheshire_Cat said:

 

I mentioned that the average scores for all of the sections were the same, but it was mentioned more in passing.  I think I should make it a point to tell the students that the material is difficult and all of the sections did poorly, and that if they are not satisfied with their grade, they need to utilize the resources available more.   I do think there is a confidence thing going on here.   I don't know how to fix that other than time.  My second class actually did have slightly lower scores, but a normal distribution, and they were nicer in my evals.  That class is a lot smaller and I am more comfortable being myself, and I think it shows.

I think you've got the right idea here. Honestly, it doesn't sound like your teaching is an issue. Your students are doing about average. As long as half the class is doing well, and your average is matching the other professor's, I don't think you have reason to be worried. 

If anything, it sounds like maybe your lack of confidence is coming across to the students. This is pretty normal. You're a new instructor, you're probably young, and they think they can push you around. You're an easy target for their discontent. They "smell blood in the water," as one of my first mentors put it. 

I don't think you should push back by overdoing it--by getting really strict or mean, for instance. But I think you have to be firm. You need to emphasize to the students over and over again what you basically said here--that half the class is doing very well, and that the average in your class matches the average in the other classes. This puts the ball in the court of the sub-average students. They can't blame you if their classmates aren't having problems. You also want to emphasize to them that it's their job to come to you or to see a tutor if they don't understand things. It's not your job to troubleshoot their difficulties. You're not in their heads. You don't know what they don't understand or what they're struggling with. Part of being an adult is speaking up if you don't understand something, because honestly, no one in the adult world helps you if you don't ask for help first. 

In other words, you need to emphasize that if they're not using office hours, they have no right to complain. Anyone who's not getting a passing grade should be in your office hours going over that test. 

That's basically how I handle my students, even now, and I've been teaching for several years. When I pass back papers, I always stress that certain students did very well, or that the papers on the whole were good (unless they weren't, and then I don't say anything). This lets the not-good students know that I'm not an impossible grader or a lousy teacher--in other words, it's them. And if they want to turn that around, they need to work for it. I absolutely never come in, though, and tell them that everyone did badly, or that the papers were abysmal (even if they were). Because that kind of thing can open you up to criticism for not being a good enough teacher or having impossible standards. Or for just being really freaking negative. Even when many of the papers are bad, I will tell the students that there were some excellent papers, and some good papers, but there are things we still have to work on. And then I'll enumerate those things. 

You might also want to stress this to the department head. If you know who complained, you might mention that that student never came to see you in office hours, and so you had no idea he or she was struggling or how to help him or her. 

And yeah, to follow up what everyone else is saying--everyone's bad at teaching at first. Or just not good. And classes where you have to use someone else's curriculum are the worst. I was a pretty disastrous teacher in my first two or three years or so, and I got dinged so badly on evaluations that my course director even flagged me as an "at risk" TA. And after that there was a long stretch of just being average. It wasn't until I was in the later stages of my degree that I finally felt confident enough (and had gotten enough positive evaluations ... and then really positive evaluations) to call myself a good teacher.

So you're definitely not alone here, though I doubt you're as bad as you think you are. This honestly sounds like a confidence issue. 

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23 hours ago, Bumblebea said:

 

I think you've got the right idea here. Honestly, it doesn't sound like your teaching is an issue. Your students are doing about average. As long as half the class is doing well, and your average is matching the other professor's, I don't think you have reason to be worried. 

If anything, it sounds like maybe your lack of confidence is coming across to the students. This is pretty normal. You're a new instructor, you're probably young, and they think they can push you around. You're an easy target for their discontent. They "smell blood in the water," as one of my first mentors put it. 

I don't think you should push back by overdoing it--by getting really strict or mean, for instance. But I think you have to be firm. You need to emphasize to the students over and over again what you basically said here--that half the class is doing very well, and that the average in your class matches the average in the other classes. This puts the ball in the court of the sub-average students. They can't blame you if their classmates aren't having problems. You also want to emphasize to them that it's their job to come to you or to see a tutor if they don't understand things. It's not your job to troubleshoot their difficulties. You're not in their heads. You don't know what they don't understand or what they're struggling with. Part of being an adult is speaking up if you don't understand something, because honestly, no one in the adult world helps you if you don't ask for help first. 

In other words, you need to emphasize that if they're not using office hours, they have no right to complain. Anyone who's not getting a passing grade should be in your office hours going over that test. 

That's basically how I handle my students, even now, and I've been teaching for several years. When I pass back papers, I always stress that certain students did very well, or that the papers on the whole were good (unless they weren't, and then I don't say anything). This lets the not-good students know that I'm not an impossible grader or a lousy teacher--in other words, it's them. And if they want to turn that around, they need to work for it. I absolutely never come in, though, and tell them that everyone did badly, or that the papers were abysmal (even if they were). Because that kind of thing can open you up to criticism for not being a good enough teacher or having impossible standards. Or for just being really freaking negative. Even when many of the papers are bad, I will tell the students that there were some excellent papers, and some good papers, but there are things we still have to work on. And then I'll enumerate those things. 

You might also want to stress this to the department head. If you know who complained, you might mention that that student never came to see you in office hours, and so you had no idea he or she was struggling or how to help him or her. 

And yeah, to follow up what everyone else is saying--everyone's bad at teaching at first. Or just not good. And classes where you have to use someone else's curriculum are the worst. I was a pretty disastrous teacher in my first two or three years or so, and I got dinged so badly on evaluations that my course director even flagged me as an "at risk" TA. And after that there was a long stretch of just being average. It wasn't until I was in the later stages of my degree that I finally felt confident enough (and had gotten enough positive evaluations ... and then really positive evaluations) to call myself a good teacher.

So you're definitely not alone here, though I doubt you're as bad as you think you are. This honestly sounds like a confidence issue. 

Thanks!  This is some great advice!

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I am wondering if your school is involved with CIRTL network. Here's a link to the list: https://www.cirtl.net/p/about-us-institutions

It's an NSF-funded network of research universities and has a focus on training graduate students and post-docs for teaching STEM courses. However, the training is certainly applicable outside of STEM. If your school does participate, you can explore the options for coursework and workshops offered to meet the certification requirements. The first certification has a focus on diversity and several adult learning theories - it might be help you both improve your teaching as well as build confidence in your abilities.

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3 hours ago, shadowclaw said:

I am wondering if your school is involved with CIRTL network. Here's a link to the list: https://www.cirtl.net/p/about-us-institutions

It's an NSF-funded network of research universities and has a focus on training graduate students and post-docs for teaching STEM courses. However, the training is certainly applicable outside of STEM. If your school does participate, you can explore the options for coursework and workshops offered to meet the certification requirements. The first certification has a focus on diversity and several adult learning theories - it might be help you both improve your teaching as well as build confidence in your abilities.

Unfortunately my school does not participate.  But I did get my mentor to come watch me teach and he gave me some tips which have dramatically improved my teaching.

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Think back to your favorite professors and  teachers.  What made them seem like they are successful in the classroom?

Confidence, relax manner, and delivery are everything to the students.  They may not be looking for a dog and pony show but they appreciate someone who they can respect.  This means someone who is confident, clear, and ready to engage with them.  I know some folks get nervous before teaching as a way to get them pumped but you cannot let your nervousness get in the way once you begin the class.  You may not need to know everything and it's okay to acknowledge that (and that you will go and look up the answer on the questioner's behalf).  Make yourself available to students-- remind them that  you're available by office hours and appointments.

The fact that they did poorly on their exams undermines their own confidence, which feed through their perception that something's not working in the classroom.  They'd rather blame someone else than themselves.

I agree with the above comments-- have folks from the university teaching center or someone on your committee (isn't your adviser supposed to evaluate your teaching?) to observe your delivery.  Teaching is definitely different from public speaking/conference presentation.  In fact, teaching itself should improve your public speaking/conference presentation.

 

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17 hours ago, shadowclaw said:

I am wondering if your school is involved with CIRTL network. Here's a link to the list: https://www.cirtl.net/p/about-us-institutions

It's an NSF-funded network of research universities and has a focus on training graduate students and post-docs for teaching STEM courses. However, the training is certainly applicable outside of STEM. If your school does participate, you can explore the options for coursework and workshops offered to meet the certification requirements. The first certification has a focus on diversity and several adult learning theories - it might be help you both improve your teaching as well as build confidence in your abilities.

Thanks for sharing this link, it seems very interesting and definitely applicable in my non-STEM field.

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You might consider a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (sometimes called a Midterm Chat). Here's an example of a format from my institution: http://ctlt.illinoisstate.edu/consultation/midterm.shtml You can do this without a dedicated SOTL center, if you can get colleagues to help you. The difference between this an evaluation is that the facilitator helps students get to consensus on what they need from you to do better and what they themselves can do to improve their performance.

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Thank you for anyone for this link - sources , because I have suck like question too!

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