Monday, July 17, 2017

What professors are like

I have to start by saying that Ashland is not much like a huge university such as OSU (Apologies to outsiders who are reading this blog). When I was a freshman, my chemistry, history, and biology lectures all had 200+ students, and we had discussion/lab sections that were supervised by graduate students. That's pretty typical for a large university, but at Ashland, your history class is more likely to have 20 students. This means you have some hope of getting an answer to a question if the lecture has lost you.

I also have to say that those stupid movies like Animal House or Van Wilder (etc., etc.) are just plain wrong. They have almost nothing in common with real college life. They are about as accurate as a Groucho Marx movie.

A few differences between high school teachers and college teachers

There are some similarities: Almost nobody goes into either field for the money; we genuinely like our students and the content of the courses—that's why we do this. Having said that, there are a few distinctions:
  • College instructors are specialists in their field; high school teachers are specialists in education. To teach anything whatsoever in college, one must have at least a Master's in that field. The majority have doctorates. If you are taking a college course in English Composition, you are listening to someone who has spent several years specializing in English—my own work includes four years studying composition pedagogy. Your college instructor certainly knows what he/she is talking about, and has a passion for the subject, but may not have a lot of entertainment skills.
  • College instructors have a fair amount of academic freedom (at least at Ashland). We do have to follow a broad outline for each course, called the Master Syllabus, but we have a lot of leeway within that outline. One English 101 course might spend most of the semester on a book such as The Soloist, while another does a selection of readings on the environment, and another a set of readings designed to be examples of rhetoric and argument. (I have done all three in various 101 sections.)
  • College instructors don't really want to talk to your mother. If you are over 18 years old, it's actually illegal for me to discuss your grades with your mother unless you give me a signed waiver (Federal law). One of my students hauled her father into the Dean's office to protest that the grammar handbook and I disagreed with her high school English teacher on comma usage. She didn't get too far. Generally, we assume that our students are young adults who are in charge of their own lives.
  • We don't see you every day, but we do have office hours. Very few freshmen show up for office hours, and that's a shame. Every one of us has office hours posted on the door (it's part of our job description). You do not need an appointment or even a very good reason. Just knock on the door and you can chat with the teacher.