Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Am I the students ally or adversary?

Some students see the instructor/teacher/lecturer as their ally. Someone whose role is to help them learn and understand.

Other students see the teacher as their adversary. Someone who is assessing them, critiquing them, making them feel dumb, forcing them to work, ... Someone they have to do battle with to get the marks and grade they think they deserve...

I am not sure how to get students to see me as their ally rather than their adversary. I think a lot of it boils down to my attitude and their attitude. I can change my attitude but there are some students whose attitude may not change, regardless of what I do. Also, the attitude of a class can be swayed, for better or for worse, by a few influential students. I think using a formative/summative assessment mix can help. This enables students to get feedback in a less threatening way and with lower stakes.

I welcome other ideas.


  1. In my limited experience I have had one particularly poignant case.

    Generally I get on well with students. I was one not long ago, and I tend to relate to them with relative ease.

    However during my PhD I had a couple of guys who would get very defensive on any quizzing session (compulsory), and I simply couldn't engage with them without them getting huffy and passive aggressive.

    Eventually I spoke with them about it. I told them they were thinking of me as a school teacher with the keys to their success at uni, and that they seemed to think I wanted to withhold that success till they said some magic words. Then I gave an ally-esque spiel.

    I don't expect this to work every time, but as with other relationships, when we came out the other end of the confrontation intact, we had a very strong relationship for the rest of the year.

    I think first years are often still in school mode, and many realise all by themselves that that's wrong. But others need prodding, and perhaps levelling with them works in some contexts.

  2. I've had a slightly different experience: students see me as their ally, or they see me only at exams!