How to deal with a teacher who doesn't even teach why things work?

  • Thread starter ode_to_joy
  • Start date
  • #1
ode_to_joy
69
0
If I was in a bio class, I wouldn't even complain. But physics?
My teacher does not teach why things work, just throw random formulae and show how to 'plug-in' values. I know one must learn a skill to deal with this type of teacher but I have never had this kind before. How did you cope with this kind of situation?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,874
1,657
You have to read around your topic.

Nobody teaches the "why" of how things work. Off topic for science classes. However, some sort of understanding is useful ... you are being taught the rote-algorithm method of solving physics problems which has the drawback, you have noticed, that there seems to be no particular reason to pick a particular equation. It becomes a bunch of esoteric tricks.

Your recourse is to use your wider resources to broaden your learning. There are a lot of physics resources online. Usually you can find lessons and tutorials to fill in the gaps just be googling the topic header.
 
  • #3
KingNothing
880
4
Nobody teaches the "why" of how things work. Off topic for science classes.

I think TS meant 'how' rather than 'why'. I don't think he was getting at some deep philosophical reason for why the physical laws are what they are.

Teaching how something works is definitely in the scope of a physics course.
 
  • #4
Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
20,871
4,845
If I was in a bio class, I wouldn't even complain. But physics?
My teacher does not teach why things work, just throw random formulae and show how to 'plug-in' values. I know one must learn a skill to deal with this type of teacher but I have never had this kind before. How did you cope with this kind of situation?
Some particular examples, for instance in mechanics or EM, would be helpful. It's difficult to assess the situation without knowing the background, or the persons involved. Certainly, different teachers/professors have different approaches. I've had excellent teachers as well as poor ones.
 
  • #5
narrator
226
11
There are teachers who should be teaching and teachers who are in the wrong job. Hopefully yours is not the latter.

One thing I know as a teacher myself, there are not many who are gifted at the job and we shouldn't expect every teacher to be so gifted. That said, there are many good teachers, especially in high school, who have become jaded, and lost interest.

But if you get to the heart of why most want to teach, then you can inspire them to do it better. The way to do this, as a student, is to show persistent curiosity, showing them that you are the kind of student that has a thirst for the knowledge that they can impart, asking how things work, and asking them to demonstrate for you. And make sure you don't just ask during class, but before and after.

Nothing is more satisfying for a teacher than to feel their job is making a difference. And don't give up on them, it may not happen immediately.

I had the opposite in HS. My physics teacher was great, always demonstrating and showing how stuff works. It was my chem teacher who rarely did anything but hand out sheets on chemical equations. I remember engaging him once and it made a difference.
 
  • #6
mishrashubham
610
1
  • #8
physics girl phd
937
3
My teacher does not teach why things work, just throw random formulae and show how to 'plug-in' values. I know one must learn a skill to deal with this type of teacher but I have never had this kind before. How did you cope with this kind of situation?

I learned formulas and algebra, and then I practiced lots of problems. But what Simon Bridge mentions is good... today (as opposed to in my day) there are a lot of online resources that are decent supplements. If you want some help selecting them, let us know the topic (mechanics, EM, modern, etc) and level (algebra-based, calculus-based, etc.) of your course.

Nobody teaches the "why" of how things work.

This isn't true. I teach a whole two-semester class called "HOW THINGS WORK" (using Bloomfield's text of the same name)... and this type of conceptual course is common at many universities for general education credit. In my case... I designed the course to use limited math (since no math course is a pre-req) in in-class simulations- and/or materials-based activities, and no math on tests. One example of the curriculum: One chapter looks at fluid dynamics, in terms of baseballs (curve-balls, knuckle-balls, etc.) and airplane wings. In my class, the students "play" with lots of kinds of "toys" that use "air" in their design: gliders, parachute-men, etc. In part of the activity, they blow across an inverted spoon to see "lift." In the class follow-up lecture, we extend to talk about the design of racecars (in terms of lowered centers of masses, spoilers, etc.). In a test problem, I might present multiple ways the spoiler shape can be mounted, and ask the student to select the appropriate one.

Now this isn't the only course I teach. In the other courses that are algebra- or calc- based, while some example problems are clearly included in my lectures, I also often try to balance the lecture with some discussion of these types of applications.

But, as Astronuc mentions... there are different teachers and different points of emphasis. If you're at the university level, perhaps two or more professors are assigned the course... and try to pick the section with the professor who is known to be difficult but a quality instructor (talk to your peers about this, or look at university-evaluations of teaching if they are posted... don't look at some site like rate-my-professor, where it's not even really clear if a student finished the course or is trying to "get even" for a bad grade, or even just write some funny rant).

Edited to add: oops... I read Simon Bridge's original quote there wrongly in favor of the original spirit of the OP. Yes -- I don't get into any God-/Not-God- philosophical discussions.
 
Last edited:
  • #9
Jimmy Snyder
1,095
19
Nobody teaches the "why" of how things work.
Science can answer how a thing works. For instance, gravity is an inverse square force, it attracts planets to the sun in the same manner as apples to the earth. It works the same in warm weather as cold, on Tuesdays as well as Thursdays. That kind of 'how does it work' stuff. But no one knows why it works.
 
  • #10
QuarkCharmer
1,052
2
My classical mechanics professor skips over the majority of interesting information, the proofs, history, basically anything that your typical engineering student does not need to know. This is frustrating for me, being one of the few physics students at my university. I have sat in on the other physics professor, the same thing could be said. I think it's more of an effect of the universities need to teach (applications of) physics, rather than to teach physics. I simply supplement the material with anything that I can get my hands on and hope that upper level physics courses turn out more as expected.
 
  • #11
FlexGunship
Gold Member
427
8
My teacher does not teach why things work, just throw random formulae and show how to 'plug-in' values.

There's something to be learned from this. A formula can tell you a lot on it's own. In fact, most explanations of physical laws seem to just be vocalizations of the formula. The aforementioned "inverse square law" for example, also Boyle's law and most of Newtonian physics.

Here's a skill to build, learn how to SAY your forumlae. I'll give you an example here:

F=ma

"The force required to accelerate a mass is expressible as the product of the mass and the acceleration."

You can add a few mental examples without ANY numbers, too: "The force required to accelerate a mass varies directly proportionally with respect to both the mass and the acceleration." Further, "a doubling of the mass doubles the force required for equal acceleration."
 
  • #12
AlephZero
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
7,025
297
In part of the activity, they blow across an inverted spoon to see "lift."

Just watch out for somebody who asks how planes can fly upside down, if that "explains" lift :devil:

(But if they do ask that, at least you know they are still awake!)
 
  • #14
Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
5,956
720
I'm not sure, but I think this is mandatory.

What is? :confused:
 
  • #15
nobahar
495
2
What is? :confused:
Saying biology is merely just remembering facts; I think it's mandatory.
 
  • #16
Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
5,956
720
Saying biology is merely just remembering facts; I think it's mandatory.

Do you have any reasoning to back up this (ridiculous) statement? :rofl: it really, really isn't. What makes you think that a full understanding of the processes and phenomenon involved isn't necessary? And how exactly do you think further research is done if everyone just "remembers facts", surely this implies no deeper understanding?
 
Last edited:
  • #17
nobahar
495
2
Do you have any reasoning to back up this (ridiculous) statement? :rofl: it really, really isn't. What makes you think that a full understanding of the processes and phenomenon involved isn't necessary? And how exactly do you think further research is done if everyone just "remembers facts", surely this implies no deeper understanding?

Wow. The sarcasm went over your head. I'm studying bio, I even e-mailed you.
 
  • #18
Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
5,956
720
Wow. The sarcasm went over your head. I'm studying bio, I even e-mailed you.

So you did, sorry that slipped my mind :redface:. Though it's pretty hard to tell sarcasm when it's typed with no indication.
 
  • #19
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,874
1,657
"All science is either physics or stamp-collecting."
-- E Rutherford (quoted in Rutherford at Manchester (1962) by J. B. Birks)

It's one of the conceits of physics.
Of course, there is quite a bit of physics in biology ;)
 
  • #20
micromass
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Insights Author
22,178
3,314
I understand the frustration of the OP, because I have the same feelings about physics. I was always very frustrated that the teachers never explained well how things work.

But it was only many years later that I found the answer. In reality, questions like "why" and "how" are extremely difficult to answer. Even things like "when I drop something, it falls to the ground" are impossible to answer. Sure, it is due to a force called gravitation, but how does that force work?? I don't think anybody knows (correct me if I'm wrong).

In general, asking why and how is not the purpose of physics. The purpose of physics is to describe what happens and to propose a theory that helps you to calculate and predict things. Physics goes by facts and observable phenomena. Its purpose is not to explain why or how (that doesn't mean that it doesn't provide such explanations at times). This makes physics quite hard to understand conceptually, but it's the way it's done. You have to get used to it...

Here are three videos where a monument in physics explains this much better than I can:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E383eEA54DE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05WS0WN7zMQ
 
  • #21
bp_psy
468
8
F=ma

"The force required to accelerate a mass is expressible as the product of the mass and the acceleration."

You can add a few mental examples without ANY numbers, too: "The force required to accelerate a mass varies directly proportionally with respect to both the mass and the acceleration." Further, "a doubling of the mass doubles the force required for equal acceleration."

Although I agree with your point I consider all of those translations ambiguous in some way.I think sometimes is more important to abstract the concept until translating it in words is unnecessary and the formula is all that you need.
 
  • #22
narrator
226
11
Just watch out for somebody who asks how planes can fly upside down, if that "explains" lift :devil:

(But if they do ask that, at least you know they are still awake!)
lol.. afaik, all production planes can fly upside down, they're just not meant to :biggrin:
 
  • #23
narrator
226
11
There's something to be learned from this. A formula can tell you a lot on it's own. In fact, most explanations of physical laws seem to just be vocalizations of the formula.
But that's the key. In learning to teach, you learn about individual learning styles. The Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic model (VAK) is the dominant model taught. In my own class, I have students who need to touch and do, to learn, whereas others are quite happy learning from a text. Powerpoints are great for many, while others fall asleep with them. Teachers should always try to incorporate a variety of different learning activities, where possible.
 
  • #24
homeomorphic
1,773
130
But it was only many years later that I found the answer. In reality, questions like "why" and "how" are extremely difficult to answer. Even things like "when I drop something, it falls to the ground" are impossible to answer. Sure, it is due to a force called gravitation, but how does that force work?? I don't think anybody knows (correct me if I'm wrong).

In general, asking why and how is not the purpose of physics. The purpose of physics is to describe what happens and to propose a theory that helps you to calculate and predict things. Physics goes by facts and observable phenomena. Its purpose is not to explain why or how (that doesn't mean that it doesn't provide such explanations at times). This makes physics quite hard to understand conceptually, but it's the way it's done. You have to get used to it...

This is missing the point. I agree with it, but it's confusing two different kinds of why.

The OP has every right to be upset with his profs.

If you give me Newton's laws and I ask why, one way you could respond is to say, that's just the way nature works. No one knows why. But if *I* was the one asking that question, you can bet that you misunderstood my question completely.

Newton may not have known why nature behaves that way. But he surely knew why he was introducing those laws as a description of nature, or else he would not have introduced them. THIS is the problem. It's not why nature does it that way. We don't know that. The question is why do WE do it that way? And if we can't answer, I'm sorry to say we are not doing science, but making arbitrary assertions.
 
  • #25
micromass
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Insights Author
22,178
3,314
This is missing the point. I agree with it, but it's confusing two different kinds of why.

The OP has every right to be upset with his profs.

If you give me Newton's laws and I ask why, one way you could respond is to say, that's just the way nature works. No one knows why. But if *I* was the one asking that question, you can bet that you misunderstood my question completely.

Newton may not have known why nature behaves that way. But he surely knew why he was introducing those laws as a description of nature, or else he would not have introduced them. THIS is the problem. It's not why nature does it that way. We don't know that. The question is why do WE do it that way? And if we can't answer, I'm sorry to say we are not doing science, but making arbitrary assertions.

Well, and what's the answer?? There is no answer. We don't know why Newton's laws hold. We don't know why math is so suitable to describe the physical world. We introduce those laws because they seem to describe nature and because they make quantitative predictions. We don't know why they do and we can't ever explain why.

The OP has every right being upset. But that doesn't mean that he'll get a good answer to his question.
 
  • #26
homeomorphic
1,773
130
Well, and what's the answer?? There is no answer. We don't know why Newton's laws hold. We don't know why math is so suitable to describe the physical world. We introduce those laws because they seem to describe nature and because they make quantitative predictions. We don't know why they do and we can't ever explain why.

The OP has every right being upset. But that doesn't mean that he'll get a good answer to his question.

No, there is an answer. That is, it is possible to provide motivation for Newton's laws. See, for example, the first chapter of V I Arnold's, Mathematical Methods of Classical Mechanics. The first step would be to argue for Galilean invariance. We don't know why nature has Galilean symmetry, and in fact, it doesn't. At least only approximately. Never the less, it is very clear why would WE would make such an assumption, as anyone who has ever been on a train can see (and as, Galileo argued originally, a ship at sea). There was a thread here, discussing how Newton came up with his laws.

And that is one answer to the OP's question. DON'T deal with teachers who won't explain the concepts. Find a book or other source that does or come up with your own explanations.

And it doesn't end there. One may give enlightening and intuitive derivations, or one may obfuscate things with gruesome and unenlightening calculations, providing no physical intuition. A wise student will simply REFUSE to take this kind of crap, and will go and read someone who conveys some understanding, rather than incomprehensible, unmotivated nonsense.

There is just no excuse for the way some people are teaching.

 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #27
mathwonk
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
11,391
1,628
to the OP, they are called questions.
 
  • #28
ode_to_joy
69
0
Except he seems to be incapable of providing clear explanations. Sometimes. I would not expect him to answer every single question we ask though, since he is no god.
 
  • #29
mathwonk
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
11,391
1,628
did you say your instructor is not god? are you an atheist?
 
  • #30
homeomorphic
1,773
130
to the OP, they are called questions.

You can always TRY that, but it's usually unlikely that there will be a good answer. If the professor were aware of a better way of explaining it, then they would probably have done so in the first place (I'm talking about situations where you understand what they are saying perfectly well, but what they are saying is conceptually inadequate for a deep understanding). In a few cases, maybe they are purposely dumbing it down, holding back more advanced explanations, trying to save time, had not figured out a very good way of putting it, etc, so it can't hurt to try, but there are some profs that you just can't expect much out of. And then, as I said, you have to take matters into your own hands.
 
  • #31
ode_to_joy
69
0
did you say your instructor is not god? are you an atheist?

Of course, I did not intend to bring any religious issue.
But I am an atheist.
 
  • #32
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,874
1,657
Some observations [long]:
----------------------------------------
I've seen and used a wide range of learning and teaching styles, both personally and in colleagues. I am a trained educator and have conducted post-grad research in education methods and issues and philosophies. I am a long way from being an expert, and I would not accept the title even if I deserved it. This thread, however, seems to follow themes concerning the clash between learning and teaching styles. I intend to talk a bit about this, starting from some home-truths about lecturing and colleges and finishing with what this means for the student. This is not intended to be complete, but I hope that considering the points raised below will help some of the students and teachers reading it to a deeper understanding.
----------------------------------------

Lecturing is well known to be the least effective form of teaching.
College lecturers are very seldom trained to teach.

Thus you end up with a bunch of people required to do something they don't know much about using tools that are ill-suited to the task. It is hardly surprising that you get a wide variation in lecturer effectiveness, even for the same lecturer. It is possible to study effective lecturing styles, there are more than one, and lecturers are motivated to do so - which is why only a few people actually suck too badly but everyone sucks a little bit. The trick for the lecturer is to try not to suck so badly that the students cannot compensate elsewhere.

Often, knowing your subject well makes the difference. However, you also have to know how your students learn - which is hard, and changes over time. So a lecturer can start out quite effective and, even without changing anything, loses effectiveness. On top of that, the lecturer changes over time as well.

The choice of lecturing style is strictly personal. Even a well researched style that is effective for one may be terrible for another. I have seen a lecturer struggle for years keeping up with the latest research, deliver clear and simple lectures, and still lose lots of students ... even though he was doing everything "right". This was because his students were expecting something different - something almost like what he was doing - and kept getting mixed up. The converse is also true - one of the most effective lecturers I've ever seen was mumbly, disorganized, and frequently lost his place, yet it all seemed to work and he was popular with high pass rates. It was as if the manner of his fumbles accidentally matched the student's thought processes and the core ideas got in.

Thus students can encounter problems even with effective and trained lecturers if the lecturing style used does not match well with the learning style. Paradoxically, this is effect is worse if the lecturing style is almost a match to the learning style, because, otherwise, it is easy to spot.

This is where student questions are welcomed by lecturers - the type and style of questions provide information about how the students are thinking about the subject and where the lectures may be missing part of the class and so on. Then the style can be adjusted - or, maybe, students can be directed to other sources of learning.

Even so, lecturers also have other things to do besides teaching ... this means they can miss the vital clues or, maybe, rationalize apparent lecturing shortcomings as something to do with the students instead. You do get years where students just don't seem to get it no matter what you do. You also have to try to use the limited lecture time efficiently-ish ... so you may not want to "waste time" answering conceptual questions in class or arguing with that one student who keeps asking slightly off-topic questions. Sometimes a persistent questioner is actually procrastinating, addressing a purely personal issue, or trying to derail the lecture. So when you ask questions - try not to look like one of those.

The best strategy for the student is to cultivate several different learning style - this way, your lecturers are more likely to be able to deliver a lecture that you can learn from.

There is a tendency for students to feel that, since they are paying a lot of money to attend college, it is up to the college to be good at educating them. Students should realize that this is a view seldom shared by the college.

College are usually about research. They take students in order to find the next generation of researchers ... so, as far as they are concerned, educating the students is almost a side effect of the search. Colleges, therefore, compete for the best quality students rather than competing to produce the best quality graduates. Really good students are also good learners, so the teaching part can actually suck badly without affecting the graduate quality. They see it as up to the student to do the learning - their job is to provide the opportunities to learn the kinds of things the college is interested in. They attract better students if the opportunities are good ones and so build a reputation... the reputation is Important. From the colleges POV, the student pays a lot of money to gain admission to the college. They've done that when they let you in the gate.

Of course, the economics and sociology of running a college is more complex than this - there are contractual complications and government regulations for eg - however, this describes, in a nutshell, the basic relationship between the college and the student.

This is also the main difference between a secondary school and a tertiary college. A High School exists specifically to educate the students - which is partly why attendance is compulsory, and you are forced to work longer if your grades drop, and so on. There is so much invested in actually teaching students and supporting their learning that college can come as a shock.

Lecturers usually join a college for reasons other than teaching. It's indoor work with no heavy lifting (except by choice), you get to do research, there's respect and social status, and the prospect of job security. This is why teaching times is so often an explicit requirement in academic contracts... it often gets in the way of why else you are there. Fortunately they have also been college students themselves so they know the score and the reluctance is not so bad. I have often has to pull lecturers out of their labs because they have forgotten they had a class scheduled - don't be afraid to do this.

With that in mind:

When a good lecturer looks like they are about to burn out (it happens) the college is motivated to send them on sabbatical next year or so. This does not help the current crop of students ... though those who do well despite a bad lecturing become more desirable as students in the next years. Colleges usually provide TAs to help struggling students anyway and they can argue that the student has many other ways of learning, they just have more of a challenge than normal. So there is not much motivation for them to fix your problems.

What this means for students is that, as well as different learning styles, you will also be more effective as a learner by (almost agressively) taking advantage of the resources the college begrudges you. Go to the tutorial sessions - use the TAs provided - use the library and IT resources - ask questions in lectures, but also seek out people to ask questions of outside lectures. Most lecturers have office hours, and many will assign grad-students to help undergrads. Develop strategies for handling these opportunities.

Which is finally back on topic :) How is a student best advised to do this?

Sharing strategies is a good approach and is where questions like this in PF can be most constructive. Each generation has to reinvent the wheel as learners to quite a large degree - so shortcutting the process for others by sharing your ideas can only help.

Actual strategies adopted will be personal - just like lecturing styles.

But there are general rules of thumb.

In lectures, questions need to be quick to ask and quick to answer. Recall that the lesson has been planned to fill the available time. If you need more than one follow-up question you need to take it outside lectures. But if someone else asks the second follow-up question, this tells the lecturer that the question has a wider interest and they are more likely to spend extra time addressing it with care.

Conceptual question are often best answered by a TA, and discussed between students in study-groups, over lunch, or in the bar. If the lecture is actually about conceptual issues, then short questions to clarify a position is a good idea. A short, polite, challenge is often welcomed. But don't argue the point - good lecturers will often throw out a questionable statement as a teaching tactic and you are supposed to go away and think about it - it is supposed to fire your mind. A bad lecturer will make these statements because they suck at teaching and you will just get a rep as a troublemaker.

A corrollory to this is to answer the questions thrown out to the class. Lecturers love this because it so seldom happens. (I'm not talking about rhetorical questions here.) Students are often reluctant to ask a pedagogical question because they are scared of looking stupid - however, students who gather the courage to risk it often find they actually end up looking smart, lecturers stop to talk to them outside of class, and huge chunks of the course suddenly drop into place.

This usually means forcing your brain to engage the question (for many students) because almost any public question draws a blank: "What's your name?" Blank! We've all experienced this sometime. Also, staying quiet can be an effective strategy - if you stay quiet then one of two things will happen: 1. someone else takes the risk, 2. the lecturer gets tired of waiting and provides the answer (and you can see the disappointment on their face). So it is possible to learn from the question without taking the risk ... but you learn best if you do take the risk, and taking that risk is one of the most powerful lessons you can learn. When we lose our fear of being wrong, we learn most effectively.

Lecturers bad at one thing may be good at something else. They may be great one-to-one, which is a bit of a bummer when you have 300+ students. Feynman gave great lectures, and his lecture series is quite good as a text-book, but he sucked as an actual educator. He over-thought it, and was too famous anyway. (BTW: you get the opportunity to attend a lecture by a Nobel prize winner - do so.) My own senior undergrad calc lecturer was so bad at it I stopped attending them and picked up the assignments from his office. OTOH: he gave great tutorials using counter-examples and naive reasoning. I've had a comp-sci lecturer whose lectures were boring as all hell but the coursework was gripping (though I was the only one who thought so and he was let go - learning styles... blah blah). My post-grad GR lecturer was in his 80's, and rambled disjointedly with gaps leading many of us to suspect he was going senile ... but his assignments were a wonder: he had a knack for conceptual problems with hidden subtleties. He was also good at singling out and nurturing talents in the class.
If you find your lecturer's strengths, you can play to them.

Sometimes there will be a very bad situation and students need to spot these early enough that they can lobby the college administration for help making up for the suckiness of the lectures. Colleges usually have well-established means, official and unofficial, to deal with these things. Then there's the student union. Remember, their default position will be to let it go. Even so, complaining well can alert the right people to a possible (from their POV) emerging problem so you may see an effect even if you officially get the brush-off.

I have personally been under review due to student complaints. Even though I was exonerated by the review, the experienced forced me to take another look at how I was teaching and I made some changes anyway ... even though what I was doing was not wrong, I realized I could do better. What I am trying to show you is that student complaints always have an impact, usually subtle. Treat the complaint as a chance to show your intelligence, maturity, and professionalism.

All of this involves the student becoming an actor in their own education. Good lecturers and colleges encourage this. Bad ones won't get in the way - much. So you can only win.

------------------------------
Still reading? I'm flattered! There is no way I can do justice to the topic in this small space.
I am interested in your opinions though - should this be a new thread?
 
  • #33
homeomorphic
1,773
130
I hate the idea of student complaints. That's not a very good solution. I have faced them myself. Despite harboring a great deal of frustration with a handful of my profs over the years, I never even thought of complaining to the department and didn't even slam them very hard on evaluations.

It seems so sneaky, going behind someone's back and complaining to someone else about them. Before you get someone in trouble, you should tell THEM about it and give them a chance to work on it.

When I got complaints against me (I'm a grad student, by the way, but once taught my own class and have done many recitation sections), the irony was I was desperate for them to give me some suggestions on how to improve or ask questions or something. But they just didn't want to work with me at all. They just wanted me out. These complaints had nothing to do with conceptual matters, except that I suspect in some cases, the students were bewildered that I offered conceptual explanations where any of their previous teachers would have had them take things on faith or just derived them by brute force calculations. So, with low-level classes like what I was teaching, I was forced to the conclusion that it had to be dumbed down ever so slightly to avoid the students wrath. And it wasn't that big of a sacrifice. Only a few things here and there had to be cut out, and if I teach it in the future, I might just make a hand-out and pass it out, so as to make the concepts in question optional, but not short change the serious students.
 
  • #34
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,874
1,657
I hate the idea of student complaints. ...

It seems so sneaky, going behind someone's back and complaining to someone else about them. Before you get someone in trouble, you should tell THEM about it and give them a chance to work on it.
You'd have no problem if a student took their complaint to you directly then - at least if they tried to.

Often students feel unable to address problems directly to the tutor/teacher/professor whatever. They feel intimidated - perhaps they suspect that making trouble for you could affect their grades? Where you have a personality clash - students may feel that there is just no talking to you: they just want you gone.

I have personally been persecuted by a professor, which was very damaging and difficult to fix, just for pressing for details about how grades were awarded in one of his papers. (Learned later he was making them up.) So I can sympathize with students who feel they cannot talk to me.

Unfortunately the formal complaints process can be a tad confrontational.

This is why I point out that a well made complaint is valuable. The trick is making one. I didn't want to get side-tracked: "how to make complaints" is a huge topic all by itself.

Students need to realize that almost nobody is vindictive enough to go after you, or even mark down your papers, just for making a pain of yourself. This goes double at college level - there are just too many annoying students and not enough hours in the day. Almost everybody wants to hear your feedback.

Teachers need to realize that they often look quite intimidating to students. They need to take pains to make it easier for students to approach them.

I've known a great teacher whose students were terrified of him: I'd never seen anything like it. Its just his voice and manner scared everyone stiff. His classes were dead silent, with 100% attendance, all on time and his assignments were never handed in overdue.

Because of the fear, and he's never overcome it, he told me he has to be very careful. He gets senior and grad students to work with the class - because nobody comes to his office for help. Right at the start of each class he tells them who to ask (if you don't want to ask me). He makes sure everyone knows where the assistance rooms are and when a grad student specifically for them will be there. If he attends - nobody else does. It's weird.

But they do use the students. I know about all this because I was one.
(Basically - in front of a large class he went really forceful in his style, it was like being lectured by Gen. Patton or something ... with small classes he was fine.)
 
  • #35
homeomorphic
1,773
130
You'd have no problem if a student took their complaint to you directly then - at least if they tried to.

Not only would I not have a problem with it. I would want them to do that, so that I get feedback. Once, I had them turn in suggestions on what I could do better for extra credit, but it's also possible to ask for anonymous feedback, too.

Often students feel unable to address problems directly to the tutor/teacher/professor whatever. They feel intimidated - perhaps they suspect that making trouble for you could affect their grades? Where you have a personality clash - students may feel that there is just no talking to you: they just want you gone.

In my case, I might not have appeared approachable or inviting, but I was not intimidating, in any way. I think the students intimidated me much more than I did them.
 

Suggested for: How to deal with a teacher who doesn't even teach why things work?

  • Poll
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
1K
Replies
1
Views
808
Replies
50
Views
1K
Replies
1
Views
455
  • Last Post
Replies
8
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
16
Views
3K
Replies
6
Views
380
Replies
0
Views
999
Top