Teaching Styles

I found a description of a teaching style that is the exact opposite of mine:

 I’m actually pretty intolerant when it comes to what I expect a class of mine to run like.  What Koshary describes about students waltzing in 20 minutes late and then proceeding to text?  It doesn’t happen in my classes.  I don’t tolerate it.  I ask them to leave.  With a smile on my face, and with a spring in my step, so the rest of the class thinks it’s funny, but I don’t hesitate.  It happens, and they’re out.  Do that a few times, and it stops.  Late papers?  I don’t care about your reasons: you lose a full letter grade a day.  I don’t care if your grandmother died and you were in the hospital – deadlines are deadlines.  You show up unprepared, and you’re out.  You complain about the reading and I’ll tell you, again, with a smile on my face, that this is college and if you’re not prepared to do the work then you really should consider dropping out.  And then I giggle.  In front of the whole class.

Mind you, the goal of my post is not to criticize the educators who teach this way. Everybody has their own teaching style, and whatever works for each teacher is fine. I firmly believe that everybody should run their classroom the way that makes them happy, and nobody should have anything to say about it. I just want to share what my approach is. The blogger I quoted is an admirable educator and scholar, and I’m in no way trying to be critical of her personally.

My approach, however, is different. I believe that my duty to the students consists of arriving in class, delivering the material, grading their work, answering emails with course-related questions, and being available for office hours. And that is where my duty ends. I’m not their Mommy, their life coach, probation officer, boot camp trainer, or nursemaid. I don’t have time or energy to police them.

This is why I don’t care how late, early, or at all they show up for class. I don’t care if they are listening to the lecture or texting furiously to their friends. Students are adults, and it is up to them to decide whether texting is more important to them than the lecture. Who am I to impose my system of priorities on them?

I have a student who always sleeps in class. The moment I come in, he plops his head on the desk and falls asleep. Maybe the sight of me does it to him, I don’t know. Today, we had a mini-quiz in the last 15 minutes of class, so other students had to make significant efforts to wake him for that. I never tried waking him during my lectures, though. He is a grown-up who decided that sleeping is more important to him at this point in life, so good for him. Why do I need to waste time on discussing this with him or waking him?

I also don’t listen to excuses as to why students have to be absent. I just let them go. If this means they need to come to my office later and write the mini-quiz or the exam there, why should I mind? I will be in the office during the office hours anyways.

This beautiful tree is half yellow half green. Oh, I love Fall!

As for late assignments, I never lower grades for them. Why should I? I grade the quality of writing. I’m a scholar of literature and that’s the only thing I teach. Personality flaws should be addressed by therapists at a patient’s request. I have never refused to accept late assignments. It’s actually easier to have them all spaced out in time because, honestly, who wants to grade 42 essays in one sitting?

You’d think that as a result of this attitude my classes would be an out of control mess, right? Students arriving late, barely ever showing up for class, asking to rewrite exams weeks after they were given, handing in assignments egregiously late, etc. Actually, this is not nearly the case.

Students see that I respect them and respond with respect. I can’t remember the last time a student was late for class. Nobody interrupts me, nobody talks while I talk.  We have written 3 mini-quizzes and one midterm in one class this semester and 2 mini-quizzes in another class. Out of all these tests, only two students came by my office to do them outside of the class time. One of those students hopped in on crutches, too. Students love me for being so laid back. I love them, too, because I made a decision a long time ago never to be ruffled by other people’s decisions not to do homework, skip class, or snooze during my lectures.

This is why on campus I always walk around with a beatific smile on my lips. Since I don’t allow things that have nothing to do with me to upset or annoy me, I always have a fantastic, stress-free time teaching.


26 thoughts on “Teaching Styles

  1. Overall, I am much closer to your style than the person quoted. I do, however, impose a penalty for late submissions. I do this to be fair to the other students. Think about the student who rushes to meet the due date and submits something less than polished. Should they receive a lower grade than someone who blows off the due date, but does eventually polish the submission?


  2. The only teaching style that bothers me is the inconsistent one. I remember one professor wrote on her syllabus that late homework would not be accepted, no matter what excuse you give. So when I missed a day, I didn’t bother to do the homework because I knew she wouldn’t accept it late. But then a couple weeks later I saw a pair of students turn in late homework. That made me mad.


  3. Hmmm, I have to think about this. I am co-teaching a lab that has 40 students, so students who are talking or arriving late are distracting and hold things up. We are giving out specific instructions so when they arrive late and have to ask for the information again it is annoying. And I hate to have a strict policy of never repeating the info to late arrivals as sometimes it is legitimate. Maybe it is different in a lecture course? Also, as a student in my first two years of grad school, I hated when students in front of me (especially just to either side so that their entire screen was in my field of vision) in lecture were watching videos on their laptops or crunching on chips in crinkly bags all around me, or streamed in late or left early slamming the door behind them; it made it harder for me to focus on (or even hear) the lecture. Again, maybe it is a case of large classes vs smaller classes.


  4. Also, something strikes me as a bit creepy the way she laughs and giggles, making a mockery of the student in front of the class when they arrive late or whatever.


  5. I also do not police the students, except for late assignments. Not a letter a day, just at a flat rate of minus 10%. But if that was a problem assignment and the solutions are posted, then it is over. Obviously.
    I do not check attendance and I do not care if they come or go. But there is this disturbing new trend, which started happening this year and which did not happen before. They do not just come and go. Disturbingly large number of them for some reason believe that it is completely appropriate to get up in the middle of the lecture, come to the front, obscuring the view for other students, and hand me some assignment. Sometimes derailing my train of thoughts. 🙂
    And when I point out that this behavior is inappropriate, some of them get genuinely surprised and very apologetic, as if nobody ever told them such a thing.


    1. Yes, this happened to me last semester. I was teaching when a student got up, stood between me and the class, and started telling me something! I was very shocked and ordered him to sit down. But he continued talking at me! So I really ordered him to sit down. He came up after class, offered no apology, and told me in a peevish voice that he needed a handout from last week because he wasn’t there. Huh?


  6. I’m happy to see you can rise above not criticising this woman, but I must object very strongly to her propensity to giggle after effectively telling students, in front of their whole class, that they are worthless as college students. I object even more to her gleeful bragging about it. It suggests disturbingly sadistic tendencies.

    I don’t encourage late submissions without concrete cause (like hospitalisation, or even illness). As a student, I would have felt it unfair, and I don’t like inflicting unfairness. However, I don’t like writ-in-stone late policies either. Lateness tends to be subjective, and I do actually have time to read concise emails about why some papers were late.

    About these elaborate ‘course policies’, though: I find a lot of it comes from the US model of teaching, which is now slowly taking over in India as well. During my undergrad, our star professors didn’t have TAs. They did their own teaching, markings, calculations. They didn’t insist on attendence, they were flexible about lateness, and absolutely no problem what one did in class as long as one did not make noises and disturbed others. They did mark very strictly, though.

    They could do this because they didn’t have publication requirements, seminars and conferences were undertaken for personal growth and meeting similar minds, not for CV-padding. The existence of their department was not contingent on how many students each could attract. And they didn’t have social or economic pressure to lower standards so most students could pass with minimum effort.


    1. Publications are not a requirement for a scholar, they are her raison d’etre. 🙂 The same for conferences. 🙂

      As for attracting students, in my field, there is a cap on how many people I can let into my courses (languages and literature are very strict about enforcing the minimums). There is always a queue of hopefuls who want to enroll but there are no spaces for them. There has also never been any pressure to lower standards. Nobody has ever asked me to fail less students or anything like that.

      I guess the model is what people want it to be.


      1. “Publications are not a requirement for a scholar, they are her raison d’etre. The same for conferences.”

        That’s a rather glib and deliberate pro-authority misunderstanding I find myself unable to appreciate 🙂 That one wishes to publish one’s research does not in any way erase the reality that one’s career will be stuck in the mud if one does not publish. Of course, logic such as this one above is an administrator’s dream. “You haven’t published anything larger than an article in the last academic year, Clarissa. Academics must not be your priority at all. You’re fired”.

        I exaggerate, but one must be careful what weapons one hands other people, my friend 🙂


        1. “That one wishes to publish one’s research does not in any way erase the reality that one’s career will be stuck in the mud if one does not publish.”

          -There is no misunderstanding. I believe that this is exactly how things should be. This isn’t about any authority. In many places, the administration is removing all emphasis from research. Administration is very very rarely pro-research because administrators consist of failed researchers. It is simply my own personal conviction that such people should not take up space in academia. There is a plethora of positions for those who want to simply teach. The number of positions for those who emphasize research is tiny and dwindling. It would be wrong to have these few spots occupied by people who have no interest in research.

          ““You haven’t published anything larger than an article in the last academic year, Clarissa. Academics must not be your priority at all. You’re fired”.”

          -These are not the merit requirements at my department. I was fully informed of mine when I was hired. If I fail to comply with them, I will – and absolutely should – be fired. Honestly, I wish my department had higher research expectations. I tried to push that through but was not successful.

          I don’t think you have a realistic picture of the direction in which today’s US academia is moving, to be honest. It is absolutely not moving in the direction of a higher emphasis on research (except a few lucky places). The “publish or perish” is dead. For the most part, we are moving away from research as an expectation of what all of us should engage in. I believe that this is a pernicious trend that needs to be resisted.


          1. “I don’t think you have a realistic picture of the direction in which today’s US academia is moving”

            Haha, quite possibly. I’m just amused you assume publications equal research. This is ideally how it should be, but isn’t. The harassed faculty of my acquaintance who could not move forward with their research at the pace they’d like, couldn’t do so because they were bogged down with their publishing requirements. Publishing didn’t need progress or evolution of research. It just needed new publications per year.


            1. Here in Australia the current trend is that publications are everything, being in a Maths/Comp. Sci. crossover area this is a really trivial thing to game.

              I target journals and conferences in quite a cynical fashion, I only target the ones that will “count” in terms of the ARCs ERA rankings.

              I break work into pieces so that I can get multiple articles out of it and always try and get both a conference proceedings and journal publication out of the same work.

              So when you say “I’m just amused you assume publications equal research.” I agree 100%. If it was about research I wouldn’t have to waste 10-15% of my time pumping up the publication rate. It is all about University rankings and attracting the overseas student dollar.


              1. “I break work into pieces so that I can get multiple articles out of it and always try and get both a conference proceedings and journal publication out of the same work.”

                This is precisely what my professors did, and the style has become normalised to the extent that most of us young researchers think this is how research should be — stagnating at the same stage every few years to milk all the publications worth out of it, till even the writing sounds jaded. Pity, really.


              2. Priyanka :
                stagnating at the same stage every few years to milk all the publications worth out of it,

                Not every few years, every couple of months. I have a list of 6 conferences that I will submit to in the next 12 months. Of these papers I can probably make 3 into journal papers that would be accepted.

                It isn’t all absolutely cynical the peer review process does mean that the work must have some worth. This is especially true when chasing the ARC ERA rankings. For instance I am better of as regards ranking as a researcher not to publish than to publish in a C ranked journal. B ranked journals will not improve my ranking so if I publish it must be in A or A* journals or at A conferences (So conferences with less than 20% acceptance rate and that publish a full articles in the conference proceedings and have at least 4 reviews per paper and are double blind).

                However some really worthwhile conferences and journals have somehow been omitted from the ARC list meaning nobody from Australia will submit to them.


              3. ” I have a list of 6 conferences that I will submit to in the next 12 months.”

                -Wow. I can barely get my school to pay for me to go to one conference per year. And even that is an endless struggle.

                We don’t have these rankings in my field but figuring out which journal to submit to is always kind of harder than actually writing the piece. 🙂 Just today I had to ask Jonathan to suggest places for me to submit to because I have absolutely no idea. What other people do, the one’s who don’t have Jonathan :-), is a mystery to me.


              4. Yeah at best I will get to go to two conferences the trick is to get students as co-authors.

                As for picking the right conferences, you have to analyse past proceedings see what sort of work they usually publish.


  7. I almost never take attendance (except in lower level language classes). But I do care about students coming in late, texting, etc. It distracts me (and sometimes fellow students) to no end, and since I don’t force them to be there, if they are present, they should be respectful of the rest of the class. I didn’t use to take points out fir late submissions, until I had a few students turning things 15 days late, and that’s unfair to the rest of the class. And you can’t possible say “2 days is fine, but after a week I start taking points out”. I am very close to Dr. Crazy’s philosophy, but I think that in the end, what works and what does not is tied to the professor’s personality. And, as somebody said above, consistency.


  8. Having been a college student, I can tell you that, for me, it meant a lot to know my teacher enjoyed what they were doing. Nobody likes to be around someone who is insincere…I think both approaches are valid. The important thing is that the students who WANT to learn are…


  9. bloggerclarissa :
    We are being pushed into getting students as co-authors and I’m resisting as hard as I can.


    You get to show them how to write a paper and all the meta writing skills that involves, they also get some publications and of you get more papers in conferences.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.