The topic seems apt as we launch a new semester…
I was intrigued by a report a few weeks back on what college students value most in their teachers. This was not just a Mason survey, but I certainly assume it applies to us too. The winner by a considerable margin: teachers who care about their students.
I suspect this is, in part, a generational reaction. I am not sure I would have thought of this category when I was in college (I was not, at the venerable institution I attended, in my opinion surrounded by caring teachers), but maybe I would have liked it if I’d known about it.
Certainly the preference is contestable. What about teachers who display caring but don’t know their subject very well? What about teachers who care so much they don’t challenge their students lest they damage their psyches or risk failing the caring test?
So I would certainly hope we’d quickly add to the current preference an insistence on teachers who also know their subject and are enthusiastic about it, and who seek, and have the capacity, to stretch their students toward higher levels of achievement.
All this said, however, there’s nothing the matter with caring about students, indeed every reason to do so and to make as sure as possible that students register on the commitment. I’ve never understood faculty—and we used to have a few, I’m hopeful that their number is dwindling—who see themselves as traffic cops whose job it is to catch their students out or to make sure that some percentage fail. We should care about student success and wellbeing. The Internet provides new ways to reach out to students—to ask why a normally conscientious student missed an assignment (and perhaps offer, at least the first time, a chance to compensate), or to try to persuade the less conscientious to change their approach. But it’s personal contact that still matters most, and the students who seek more out-of-class interaction with faculty are clearly expressing this.
Each instructor, obviously, has to decide what works best, what’s most appropriate, to demonstrate concern for students. I’m not at all suggesting a formula. I do, obviously, commend the goal. Of course, there’s some complexity in wishing our students well while also measuring their achievement through appropriate standards. But we should want them to succeed—all of them, and not just the preformed high achievers—and we should be willing to reach out to help, as well as explaining to our charges why caring is not the only thing they should be looking for.