by Pamela Pollock
I’ve been thinking a lot about this David Brooks editorial I read last month. In the piece, Brooks discusses the dilemmas inherent in communicating with people we find foolish. He argues that it is not really a compliment to say that one doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and in fact it takes great skill to be able to communicate well with people of all abilities. Academics are often criticized for not suffering fools gladly, for thinking too highly of ourselves, or for not being able to talk to “real people.” Let’s face it, though: we all have to deal with people who just don’t get it sometimes. For teachers, these people are often students.
None of our students are fools, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes ask foolish questions or try our patience in other ways. Whenever someone asks me what I think is the hardest part of teaching, I tell them it’s not about covering the material. The hardest part for me is dealing with that one difficult student, or answering questions which students could have easily found had they taken a minute to look at the syllabus.
So what’s a teacher to do? Take a deep breath. Be patient. Explain. Challenge. Raise expectations. Give and receive feedback. Help make things clear. It is rewarding to see that these strategies usually work—they really do! And then, once we’ve built a good rapport with students, a new semester starts and we have new students who need to go through the whole process again. So we learn and grow as teachers and hope that the students we guide are learning and growing as well. But honestly, if one more student asks me if they missed anything in class last week…
The good news is that the Bok Center is here if you need help with any of these skills. Check out what we’re offering at the Bok Center this term.
– Pamela Pollock is the Instructional Specialist for International Teaching Fellows at the Bok Center.