It’s not a popularity contest. Well, only a little bit.

I had a phone interview for a job recently, and the last question they asked was "What is one of your biggest weaknesses as a teacher?" Don't you hate that question? And despite the fact that they always ask that, I am never prepared. So my answer was off the cuff and honest. "My worst weakness is that I can be very demanding. I need to learn to set appropriate expectations."

I don't mind that I am demanding; what I worry about is that I am asking of my students more than they are able to give. I want them to like science and learn to be confident, after all. However, I am of the opinion that these are college freshmen that I teach, and they need to study, and learn, and apply their knowledge. I do not favor multiple choice or fill in the blank exams; they get those weekly as pre-lab quizzes, and that is all well and good to get them to begin to think about a concept, but it isn't the best way to test their comprehension. (Don't let this open up a whole new conversation about standardized tests, please. Remember, this is a laboratory class.) OK, I might throw in one or two, to be nice, but then I like more interpretative and analytical questions, or, even better, lab practicals.

I realized recently that not everyone tests in this way, though.

But here is the thing; first of all, I am not teaching the lectures, so I am not savvy on what they are learning there. I do not feel comfortable asking questions about concepts that are not part of our laboratory. I teach lab, so I ask about lab. Secondly, the coordinator asked us to design more lab practical types of exams; so that is what I do. So yes, I am very demanding. That's life. If you don't like it, don't register for my class. And guess what- some of the students come back to me again; and some most surely don't like me and they won't come back. Still, if no one registers for my class, I won't keep my job for very long.

How do I know they don't like me? Well, let me tell you a story…

In the back of the lab is a terrarium with a very large, very hairy tarantula living inside. During class Tuesday night I overhead two students talking. One said "Aw, the spider is lonely. It needs a mate." And the other said… "Throw Prof. --- in there with it."

Well! I wasn't sure if I should acknowledge the comment or pretend not to have heard it. It didn't hurt my feelings so much as it shocked me and made me almost want to laugh. But, since I couldn't come up with anything to say that would be appropriate or non-inflammatory, I bit my tongue and said nothing.

Incidentally, I listed that as one of my strengths: The ability to know when to be quiet and not let the small stuff interfere with the task at hand.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here, except that I really do need to know how to gauge appropriately my class's potential, and make sure that I work to that. Judging from scores on exams and, ultimately, grades, I think I do that pretty well. But that is one of my weaknesses, and one of my greatest challenges.


Lisa said...

I remember when I was interviewing Gary asked me if I wnated kids to be my friend and I said no. He clearly didn't like my answer because he asked the same question multiple times in different ways until I finally must have said something to satisfy I believe that my job is easier if my kids like me, but I know that there are some kids that probably don't like me all that much. And that's OK.
I think I would have called that student out--that was disrespectful and that is the one thing that makes me crazy in my classroom.
And, for the record, I think it is good you are demanding and you set standards. I've had many parents say the same about me. For crying out loud, they are in COLLEGE!

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I suppose if the student didn't realize that you could hear (and wasn't intentionally wanting the whole class to hear, I would just ignore it. Otherwise a "hairy really isn't my type" might have done the trick.

I will admit, though, that I tend to err on the side of calling out students for inappropriate comments. I also have zero tolerance for talking in class (except for questions/discussion). No one has said bad things about my face at least!! haha