What I’ve learned in three years of “teaching”

photo courtesy University of Kansas

School starts this week!

Can you tell I’m excited?

I was exchanging thoughts with a friend on Facebook the other day–she’s also an adjunct instructor in a social work program here in the Midwest–and we were comparing notes. The topic quickly turned to things that we’ve learned from our students, from different ways of seeing policy (she had a student point out that Bush’s expansion of Medicare, through Part D prescription drug benefits, was the largest expansion of the welfare state in the modern era) to better strategies for communicating content (in appreciation to my students who pointed out that, on video, I’d just make everyone dizzy).

As a reminder to myself and a demonstration to students past and (almost!) present, here’s my list of the top 3 things (I chose 1 per year) I’ve learned from my students, in no particular order:

  • No one wants to hear me talk for two hours straight (except maybe Jen and Jason, bless their souls!). Seriously–my students have challenged me to come up with innovative ways to engage them with the content (debates, case studies, problem-solving, simulations), rather than just delivering it, and we’re all learning more.
  • Challenging students shows that I respect them, and believe in them; they’d rather come up short in my class than in ‘real life’. It’s hard, especially when you’re a new instructor, to get over wanting to be liked in order to hold people to the high expectations of which you know they’re capable. And, okay, maybe there are a few students who would rather coast through, but the majority of my students have repeatedly told me that they appreciated honest feedback and academic rigor.
  • Learning, and teaching, don’t stop with graduation. I spend a lot of time with former students, mentoring and sharing links and exchanging ideas and making connections. It’s some of the most rewarding time I spend as a teacher, cultivating relationships of lifelong learning with talented social workers.

    There are more lessons, to be sure: about social media and its role in the classroom, about the unpredictability of what will provide the spark for a particular student’s passion for policy, about how students need to learn from each other. Not to mention all of the attempts to tutor me in the ways of popular culture.

    And, there are probably other lessons that I should have learned, but didn’t. Maybe this will be the year for those?

    Teachers, as we head back to classes: what have you learned from your students? And, students, what are you trying to teach us (or, even, specifically, me) that you wish we’d learn?

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