Author: Dorothy M. Huang
Date: June 4, 2023
Much of the rhetoric around teaching communities is often centered around the question of how to enhance the students’ learning experience. As instructors, we focus much of our attention on what we can offer students. Sometimes, we fail to remember that our students have a lot to teach us as well. The invaluable lessons that my students have taught me through our interactions and through my observation of their growth over time have been humbling.
In this post, I share three lessons my students have taught me.
Lesson 1: Asking for Help
The first lesson that I have learned is to ask for help. We often ask students to seek help when they are confused about the learning material and about how to succeed in the class. While they are often hesitant at first, with sufficient persuasion and effort, they learn to attend office hours and ask questions to clarify their doubts. As these students grew in their trust in me to not judge them for their mistakes and to provide them with constructive feedback (Micari, 2019), I realized how useful it could be for me to seek help from my peers, mentors, and even students, for other aspects of my life.
If my students, much younger than I am, can find the courage to ask for help, what excuse do I have not to do so as well? In the same way that I do not view my students’ requests for assistance as a weakness, there are people that I can reach out to for help. It is up to me to be brave enough to take the risk.
Lesson 2: The Little Things
Sometimes little things that do not take much effort make students feel like they matter. The way that students’ faces would sometimes light up when they realize that I remembered their name shows me how valued they feel and builds trust. (Cooper, 2017; O’Brien, 2014) When I ask students how they are during class and remember what they share with me about their lives, students feel important. The effects of demonstrating care in small ways can be profound. Over the course of the quarter, students started to speak up in class, offer their answers to questions when asked, and to ask questions of their own.
I often wonder how I can make an impactful change in the world. My students have taught me that tiny things, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can yield inconceivably significant results over the course of time.
Lesson 3: Have a Little Faith
The final lesson is to have a little faith by believing in others (Denial, 2019). This has admittedly been the hardest for me because life’s challenges have made me cynical.
My interactions with students have, however, taught me that believing in students and challenging my implicit biases can yield surprising results. Communicating to the students kindly by having honest conversations with them, being mindful of our instinctual responses that might be influence by previous experiences of mistrust that are not relevant to the student-instructor interaction taking place (Denial, 2019).
A campuswide Wi-Fi outage took place during an online exam, forcing me to cancel the exam. Panicked students responded by flooding my inbox with emails. Overwhelmed, I initially could only think of how inconsiderate the students were being. However, after a while I realized that I would have been similarly fazed as a student, I sent an email to the entire class, asking them to refrain from sending me any further emails and to have faith that I will find them a solution. The emails stopped. It was heartening that a class of over 400 students gave me grace at a time when I needed it.
Sometimes, all we need is a little faith.
While students often look to their instructors for direction, it is important for us to remember that in interacting with students, there is much that we, as instructors can learn from these students as well. If we look hard enough, we may find ourselves transformed by the wisdom that our students impart to us.
Cooper, K. H. (2017). What’s in a Name? That Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High- Enrollment Biology Classroom. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(1), 1-13.
Denial, C. (2019, August 15). A Pedagogy of Kindness. Retrieved from Hybrid Pedagogy: https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness/
Micari, M. a. (2019). Is it OK to ask? The impact of instructor openness to questions on student help-seeking and academic outcomes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 22(2), 95-168.
O’Brien, M. L. (2014). The Power of Naming: The Multifaceted Value of Learning Students’ Names. QUT Law Review, 14(1), 114-128.