People say that lecturing as a style of teaching is outdated, and that college professors today have to be more responsible for promoting interaction and engagement in the classroom. For this newer approach to really work, however, the change in responsibilities cannot remain completely one-sided, and students are also going to need to have a new understanding of their own responsibilities with respect to classroom behavior. I’ve been surprised by just how disruptive college students will be in class, and dealing with this is probably the most stressful part of my job.
Many of the college student behaviors that professors find most obnoxious might be understood as holdovers from the old days of lectures. When the professor was at a far-away podium just talking at the students, the presence of students who were unprepared, asleep, or quietly doing something else, didn’t disrupt the delivery of the lecture to others who wanted to listen. A recorded lecture played over the internet is even more impervious and a good alternative for students who have trouble with the expectations of a live class. But in a contemporary real-life classroom, student behaviors that may have once been victimless individual choices are now often seriously problematic because they interfere with everyone’s experience.
Today, while professors are still supposed to provide clearly well-planned and rehearsed material, they’re also supposed to be flexible, spontaneous, and interactive. They’re supposed to be entertaining. They’re supposed to know the students’ names and include their perspectives. They’re supposed to be willing to take risks on encouraging difficult discussions and exploratory activities while being empathetic and open and fully in control. In today’s classroom, students who are physically present but not respectfully attentive get in the way of the lesson plan and classroom climate. The ones on social media, sleeping, or walking in and out of the room; the ones who won’t do the reading but nevertheless insist on “participating” in discussions of it with irrelevant opinions; the ones who don’t cooperate with instructions to break up in to small groups or to work on a specific problem, and so on. Above and beyond slowing down the procedural flow of the class, these students are treating their professors as if they were lecturing robots or wind-up toys, when the professors are trying their hardest to engage with the students as real human beings — they are essentially saying “F-you” to their professor right there in public. Moreover, they are doing it in a situation where the professor will be considered “unprofessional” (or worse) if he/she were to be visibly annoyed, flustered, or demoralized by the way he/she is being treated on the job.
Perhaps some students do not realize that it is rude to be texting while their professor is talking to them. Becoming informed about this perspective is likely to be helpful for them in navigating the adult world, but that isn’t even the point of why professors shouldn’t be expected to tolerate such behavior. Students are increasingly insisting on being treated with respect for who they are as individuals, and calling others out for things that make them feel publicly humiliated even when there was no malicious intent. Perhaps professors need to start doing the same.