Teaching While Not Teaching
By Robert Leamnson
New students' real introduction to the academic rules and rigors of college life comes in the courses they take. Ideally, every faculty member who teaches first-year students would be an orientation leader. As Joseph Lowman (1995) said, "Students need affection from college teachers, not as parents or lovers, but as adults who approve of them as learners and persons." First-year students may be walking around with a need they can't quite put into words-the need for a grownup friend. Young people might not, however, seek or expect approval and friendship from a stranger or a functionary. They might find the just-right person in student services, or through formal advising or counseling. But their teachers are the adults they encounter regularly and frequently. They have ample time to watch what we do, what we say, and how we react. They do, at some level, get to know us. It should not be surprising if some of them pick a teacher to be their adult friend.
As noted earlier, interests and values are often "caught" from teachers. Teachers themselves are seldom aware that this is going on, but that kind of inspiring might be thought of as unconscious teaching (realizing of course that such an expression is inconsistent with my earlier definition of teaching). More properly we would say that students learn from us even when we are not teaching.
One of the surest ways to show our concern for students is to be available to them. I would have to agree here, that college students can be almost childishly self-centered in their expectations regarding your availability. We have all heard the complaint, "she's never in her office." That complaint might well be an extrapolation from a single visit, possibly while that teacher was in class. But putting the extreme cases aside, it is in everyone's best interest to bend over backwards in trying to accommodate students who want to talk. Sending students away with the recommendation that they come back during posted office hours is certainly legal, but it sends a discouraging message.
If you want to go that extra mile, few things delight students more than one of their teachers showing up for their recital, their part in a play, their tennis match, or soccer game. Remember that the research on the topic of student/teacher interaction in college has already been done. Both Astin (1993) and Light (1990) found that getting connected with faculty was the number one contributing factor toward a successful and rewarding college experience, followed closely by interaction with peers on academic matters.
A lot of learning goes on outside the classroom. Lowman (1995) suggests that most of it does. When students are struggling with something outside of class time, either individually or in groups, they dearly appreciate having you available in a pinch. With more of them becoming comfortable with e-mail, my new mail, my new mail file has an increasing number of requests for help, or for clarification, or to settle some argument. I try always to respond as soon as a question on coursework comes in. Even when I'm not on campus I check the e-mail from home periodically and always respond immediately to student questions.
All out-of-class interactions with students, face-to-face or electronic, should be personal and friendly. As Page Smith (1990) said, "Teachers who love their students are of course by that very fact teaching their students the nature of love, although the course may in fact be chemistry or computer science." He thoroughly endorses out-of-class contacts between students and faculty, "because they reveal something to the student about reality that can, I suspect, be learned no other way. Such contacts demonstrate that ideas are 'embodied.' They do not exist apart from a person, remote or near at hand, who enunciates, who takes responsibility for them by declaring them, by speaking about them." Or in the words of Woodrow Wilson, "We shall never succeed in creating this organic passion, this great use of the mind until (we) have utterly destroyed the practice of merely formal contacts between teacher and pupil."
Downloaded from Tomorrow’s Professors listserv, August 11, 2001. Taken
from Chapter 8, “Final Thoughts,” in Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning with First Year College and University Students. Published in USA, Canada, Central and Latin America by Stylus Publishing, LLC. 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, VA 20166-2012. http://www.styluspub.com/ Copyright © 1999 Stylus
Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.