By JOE GRIMM
MSU School of Journalism
What would college students tell their professors if they could?
In To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching, a journalism class uses more than 100 such comments to get things started.
“What type of professor gives you a bad grade on a paper and the only comments written were ‘incorrect use of a semicolon’ and ‘good’?”
“I spend a lot of money to go to school here. It would be nice if a professor knew my name.”
Comments like these were selected as starting points for more than 50 chapters in this new book.
This level of confusion and frustration is not surprising to anyone connected with higher education, these days. College campuses have become complicated places. The college population is more diverse than ever, tighter budgets and expanding technology are changing the role of professors, and students are more willing than they have been in 50 years to ban uncomfortable speech. Often, a professor, whether adjunct or a tenured PhD, becomes the fulcrum where all of this change seems to turn on campus.
MSU School of Journalism students now are veterans of identifying and producing helpful books on a wide range of issues concerning America’s changing culture.
This new project, To My Professor, was born when some ugly classroom incidents prompted a committee in the Michigan State College of Communication Arts and Sciences to ask for a teaching guide written from the student’s point of view. The request went to a class called Bias Busters because its students had published earlier 100-question guides to greater cultural competence. To My Professor, became a much bigger project, however, and grew to become a 230-page book written by 18 students over a 15-week semester.
Among the major sections of this book are:
- Engaging everyone
- Out of bounds
- Life stages and circumstances
- Health and wellness
- Racial inclusion
- International community
- Gender and inclusion
The subjects include communication, grading, the needs of commuters, financial stresses, parent-student issues, challenges faced by first-in-the family students, international students and a growing blend of race, culture and gender identification.
FRICTION OVER DIVERSITY
Among the comments collected as starting points in the research, many focused on diversity, including:
There was frustration “when profs do not learn a Black student’s name because it’s ‘too hard’ but they can learn scientific names for plants+animals.”
“My professor just asked if I speak Arabic and then told me I look like a terrorist.”
“I felt like I had to choose between my grades and my religion, but what’s worse, I don’t know which my parents will be more upset about.”
In researching their chapters, the MSU journalists interviewed students and educators—and they also turned to nationally known master teachers and experts on crucial issues. For example, in sorting out the many potential points of misunderstanding over religious practices and observances, the students turned to the nation’s leading journalist covering religious holidays and observances: Stephanie Fenton, who has reported for ReadTheSpirit magazine over the past decade.
WHAT THEY LEARNED
So, with the book now out and getting into the hands of educators through Amazon and other booksellers, let’s turn the lens on the student-authors. What do they think now? Here is what some wrote:
“Interviewing professors and students for this book was eye-opening. Some were apathetic to our project, and that alarmed me. From the start we knew that the professors who didn’t want to learn or adapt their teaching styles wouldn’t be our readers—though they likely need our book the most. Others were inspired, and that fueled me to produce better work.”
“I learned that professors don’t suck on purpose. They really are trying their best and they do mean well. Hopefully our book can help them be even better! “
“I learned that there are some AMAZING professors, but there is always going to be some not-so-amazing professors, too. It’s important to realize, though, that these professors, just like us, have a life outside the classroom.”
“As a student you sometimes feel alone in the way you are treated by professors, but you’re not. There is a whole nation full of students just like me.”
CARE TO READ MORE?
Joe Grimm is visiting editor in residence in the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He was the teacher and editor for To My Professor: Student Voices for Great College Teaching. He is also the editor of the Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence. And here is a link to the MSU journalism students’ author page.