no. 6 – the reasons why i have to be so hard on students

I’m hard on my students. Very hard.

I don’t work on a traditional college campus. This campus, which shall remain nameless (for my sake), is a technical one that trains its students to work in their prospective fields. This means students must do more than practice rote memorization and vomit answers in multiple choice. It means students must attend class, and it means that students must participate in hands-on learning 50% of the time.

It also means that instructors must innovate and find ways to train our students in engaging ways that apply to their fields. We are responsible for creating a product, and that product is a productive employee!

I teach Technical Writing and Workplace Communications. These courses are requirements that fit into their general education. I can assure you if they had a choice in the matter, most wouldn’t elect to take either of these courses.

Many of them do not at first see the value of soft skills, and they have no interest in writing in the workplace. I never stop finding ways to reiterate that these are the variables that could potentially set them apart from other job seekers.

Yet, I can provide these students with feedback from top companies (to which they plan to apply), reporting that 50% of hires are let go within the first 6 months of being hired, the reasons why and what they can do better themselves; and a lot of them will still refuse to alter their thinking.

But why?

They all want jobs, and they all want the paycheck, but when asked if they are interested in the prospect of being promoted, they say things like:

  • “I just want enough to be comfortable.” Most students on campus are being trained to work in process technology. They expect to work, and they expect to work hard. They have grown up in families of hard working people, many of whom have struggled to make ends meet. And fewer have obtained comfort. In their eyes, wanting anything beyond that is a pipe dream and recipe for disappointment.
  • “I just want to get in.” I fear for these students. They typically produce shoddy work, grade lower across the board and have poor attendance in classes (and not just mine). They believe that if they can merely get in the door, show up every day and keep their head down, they can ride it out until retirement. What many of them don’t account for are changing industry trends which may necessitate them learning new skills and working in ways which make them uncomfortable.
  • “Not if it means writing.” And just as I noted in the previous bullet point, they do not wish to do anything that might in some way infringe upon their level of comfort. These students have not received the education I’ve been privileged to receive. I wrote my first academic research paper in fifth grade. It included a cover page, a table of contents, an abstract, a body, a bibliography AND an appendix! I can’t remember when I had to do my first book report, but I know it was before that. Many of these students have NEVER written a research paper at any point in their education…let alone diagrammed a sentence. These students are so intimidated by writing, they need constant reassurance in order to stay on track.

The most effective strategy I have realized in dealing with these students is not accommodation. Rather, the best thing is to set expectations higher than they think they can reach. This has worked in 3 out of the 4 classes I teach this term (hey, it’s a practice). Class participation is at an all time high, and grades seem to reflect their involvement.

I have great concern for these students, and I hope that in a few years when they are working in industry they look back and say “Ms. Hill wasn’t actually  trying to ruin my life.”

I hope.

And you?

  1. Do you remember a teacher that you once believed was unnecessarily difficult during college?
  2. Has your perspective changed? If so, how or why?
  3. What unsuspecting teachers might you have had that you feel the same way about (for example, a boss or a parent)?

Author: Kate Hill

Hi, I'm a 31 year old adjunct who writes in my spare time. I live with my girlfriend, her 13 year old daughter and the imaginary dog we keep talking about. I live in my head, and I like cheeseburgers. Did I mention a warm bath is a nice thing to come home to?

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