I am not sure that any students know exactly what a professor really wants from them. My guess is that if you sent a note to your students for the upcoming fall and simply asked—what do you think I want from the students in this class—you’d get some simplistic answers like “learn the material” or “pass the tests.”
Is that really what you want? It sounds so dull. No wonder students find education boring. No wonder they often put out less than an excellent effort.
If that is not what you want from the students in your class, why not tell them? First, you’ll shock them by your honesty. Second, you’ll take an immediate step toward having them think differently about your class. You might even move them closer to what you really want.
I had a very interesting principles class last spring. Okay, I didn’t have that many A students but the class was just very lively and really got into learning about financial accounting. The discussions were marvelous. I looked forward each day to working with them and I think everyone got a lot out of the class.
I wanted to encourage my upcoming fall class to be just as lively. Maybe it had never occurred to them. So, I sat down a few weeks ago and tried to figure out what characteristics I really wanted. As a result, I sent the following note to all of the students who have signed up for my fall class.
“I had a great principles class last semester. It was a lot of fun. The students were active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful. When you have students like that, it is unbelievable the amount that can be accomplished in a class. My wish for you and the upcoming semester is that you’ll wind up demonstrating those same five characteristics.”
If you could get a class that demonstrated those five characteristics, wouldn’t you be able to accomplish an almost unlimited amount? Notice that I did not include “smart.” It is nice to have smart students because it makes the job easy but if teaching is really what you want to do in this life, aren’t you better off to have active, engaged, curious, questioning, and thoughtful students than smart ones? Smart students probably don’t really need you.
Why did I tell these five characteristics to my new students? Simple—I wanted them to know walking in the door on the first day that I wanted them to be alive in class and use their brains. I don’t want them to sit there and mindlessly take notes. I want them to know that I have different expectations. I want them excited about their own education because if they get excited, there is no end to what they can accomplish.
I wanted them to know what I wanted even before they had ever met me.
Okay, if you can send emails to your fall students, why not think of the characteristics that you would like for them to display in your class? Then, provide them with that list. It should be no secret.
You may want characteristics that are totally different from mine. That is fine. But, if you really want your students to demonstrate specific characteristics, give them a head start. Just tell them.