Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Coddling Students...Continuing the Discussion

During our Professional Development Days in January, I enjoyed the rare opportunity to sit with my colleagues and talk about teaching.  The discussion in the afternoon session on coddling students brought up deep emotions related to my own teaching practices.  I’ve wondered for some time whether I “do too much” for students.

In my early years teaching at LCC, I had overly strict polices with no room for negotiation, and the language in my syllabus was harsh and condescending.  There were lots of capital letters and bold fonts, with phrases like, “IN CASE YOU WERE THINKING OF COMING IN LATE...JUST STAY HOME!”  One semester I stuck to my “locked door” policy during lecture, and continued the lesson even as an irate student pounded on the door and shouted at me from the hallway.

My teaching philosophy had the underlying premise that students who were not ready for college would learn by failing.  I would not remind them about assignments or exam dates (it’s on the syllabus), because keeping an up-to-date personal calendar is a skill they should have been taught in high school.  If a student forgot to attend an exam, I recorded a zero and moved on.

I can’t remember exactly when my attitude shifted, but somewhere along the way I quit blaming students for being unprepared for higher education.  My current policies are not lenient, really, but I dropped the confrontational tone (and the bold type), and started teaching the skills that students were lacking.  At the beginning of every face-to-face class, for example, I write an agenda on the board, and I keep an up-to-date calendar in Desire2Learn.  Sometimes I even send out an email reminder before a high-stakes assignment is due.  There is no such thing as, “I didn’t know the test was Thursday.”

Because there are clear expectations, I don’t accept any late work.  But I still wonder whether reminding students of upcoming due dates is “helicopter teaching.”  Maybe I need to move my students toward independence by showing them how to use Google Calendar, and decreasing the number of reminders as the semester progresses.

Even if I do too much, I’d rather create an atmosphere of empathy and patience than one of hostility.  I will never again lock a student out of my classroom, or shout at them in my section syllabus.  I will set reasonable expectations, and teach the students how to achieve them.

If you'd like to talk more about classroom management, visit the CTE or contact Meg Elias at