Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Favorite Quotes about Teaching – Number Four

Before I write about my next favorite quote about teaching, I have a quick announcement. I know that a lot of the folks who read this blog teach accounting. As most of you probably know, I am the coauthor of an Advanced Accounting textbook (McGraw-Hill) and an Introduction to Financial Accounting textbook (Flat World Knowledge). Over the past 6-8 months, I have spent an incredible amount of time helping to create the second edition of the Financial Accounting textbook (with C.J. Skender of UNC). That second edition will be coming out in the next 4-5 weeks. The book was very successful in the first edition but (as you might imagine) I’d love to increase that adoption rate for the second edition. We didn’t make any huge changes but we must have made 1,000 small tweaks. I was pleased with the first edition but I’m truly ecstatic about the second. I know it is a cliché but we set out to build a better mousetrap. For example, it is the only Socratic Method textbook that you will probably ever see.

We wanted to produce a book that would interest and excite every student who was studying accounting. If a student gets interested and excited about any topic, the learning process becomes so much easier. The textbook is free online while the paperback version only costs students about $40.

If you would like to receive a copy of the second edition when it comes out, drop me an email at Jhoyle@richmond.edu. Give me your name, your mailing address, your school, and when you will be teaching Financial Accounting. I’ll make sure you get one of the first copies of the second edition when it rolls off the press.

I seem to pick up quotes about teaching everywhere I go. My fourth favorite quote comes from a very unlikely source. I eat lunch occasionally at the Jimmy John’s deli that is near my campus. They have a lot of interesting signs on the walls but one always catches my attention:
“If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you have a boss.”
I will sit and think about that quote for an entire turkey sub.

I don’t think you should ever be rude or mean to students. That is not appropriate behavior. I also don’t believe that meanness helps the learning process. However, I don’t think you have to treat students like delicate flowers either. I feel that one of the kindest things you can do is to be truly tough on your students. Don’t you want to make them better? How do you make them better without challenging them?

When a student is wrong, I don’t see any reason not to say so.
When a student seems to be loafing, I don’t see any reason not to say so.
When a student is not thinking deeply enough, I don’t see any reason not to say so.
When a student is not giving you their best, I don’t see any reason not to say so.

I know teachers who will tell me “I could never be too critical of a student; I might hurt their feelings.”

Bah, humbug.

Again, I don’t see any reason to be mean but if a student gives me a dumb answer, I don’t see any reason not to tell them right then that I think it is dumb. Or, at least, tell them they can do better. Or, challenge them to think harder.

We often seem to forget that the students who are under our charge will be out in the real world in 1-4 years and the real world can be completely unmerciful. I’m not in the least bit sure we are doing our students a favor if we treat them too kindly.

When I think about my 41 year career, I have never once wanted to be considered “a kindly old professor” or “a swell guy.” Instead, I’ve always wanted my students to believe “he was always fair but he sure as heck did push and challenge us every minute of every class to do better. He was really tough and demanded our best.”

I simply believe our entire school system would be better off if every teacher was tougher.

One of my favorite questions in class is “if you had a job and you were in a business meeting and you gave that last answer, what would your boss say?” I think that is a very legitimate question for college students. And, most students will look extremely sheepish when you ask them that. Most of the time, they know when they have handed you a dumb or unprepared answer.

If a student gives you a bad answer and you smile politely and nod, what has that student learned from you? They have learned that lack of preparation and shallow thinking are adequate for success. Is that really the lesson that we want our students to take from our classes into the real world?

So, the next time you get an answer in class that you don’t like, ask yourself: How is the best way to push this student to do better as they move toward the real world? Just remember - if you accept dumb answers in class, don’t be surprised by the sheer quantity of dumb answers that you start to receive.

Jimmy John’s says: “If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you have a boss.” What I would like to see that quote change to is: “When you eventually have a boss, you’ll be so happy that you had that truly challenging teacher.”

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