In what ways can a teacher get in the way of a students’ growth?

In what ways can we teachers actually impede the growth of a student, despite our best intentions? It is a fundamental element of my teaching philosophy that it is my job to stimulate a student’s curiosity and enable them to learn and process new information on their own, and that I must avoid the model in which I give them the information that I expect them to absorb. Despite this being my goal, I probably get in the way of that goal, every time I get frustrated by something a student says or writes, and every time I try to give them my “wise advice” about learning and life.

I was meeting with some students today, and one of them related a conversation had with a professor. The student’s account was of expressing about two hours worth of thoughts to the professor, and that the professor merely listened with enthusiasm and interest. The student’s reaction was absolutely warm and positive. I realize that if I had been in the student’s position, I would probably have felt the same way, and thankful that someone’s character and intellect I respected would let me elaborate my thoughts. I also realized that I have never been that professor: that when a student comes to visit me, I perhaps deliver “sage advice” all too often. If I was a student visiting myself as a professor, I wonder if I would become frustrated? I wonder if I would have “learned” that my thoughts were not good enough? My teaching habits may be at odds with my teaching philosophy goals.

PhiloDave related a story a while back about dealing with “silent students” that is of a similar vein: the desire to get students talking can be distracting and counter-productive for those students, of whom I was a member, who are generally quiet and reflective, and more comfortable thinking through the ideas slowly.

Have you had a similar epiphany? In what ways have you gotten in the way of a student’s learning?

3 thoughts on “In what ways can a teacher get in the way of a students’ growth?

  1. I do my best to avoid exactly what you state, Heraclitus.
    Your posting reminds me of the saying told to me by a senior faculty member – we have one mouth and two ears for a reason.
    When students come to see me, I listen and offer some words of wisdom with the personal understanding that if the student did not directly ask me for advice, I will be enthusiastic about what they have to say and keep my advice to myself. Notice how the order of the experience is not entirely sequential. I still open my mouth first and remember to close it later. I’m still learning.
    Good to know at least one other faculty member has similar concerns.

  2. Talking when I should be listening is definitely the most likely scenario for me. A close second is overwhelming the student with things to check out and shoving fourteen things at them, when two would do.

    I justify it to myself later as being an expression of enthusiasm, but I know it inhibits more often than it helps–at least in the short run.

  3. Sometimes professors are the only mentors available for adult students, especially adult students tend to be a little bit more humble to listen to advice from a Professor than from a social worker. Personally I think teach a student to “think right “is more useful than teach them just some kind of equations since it can only solves math but not life problems.

    Seriously professors, we need you.

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