Professors must take responsibility for students’ understanding of course material

While professors are incredibly well-versed in the material they teach, not all of them are traditionally trained in teaching. A single professor could have several degrees in their field, but learning to connect with students and present material in an easily digestible way has a learning curve for even the most knowledgeable individual. But even if professors are experts in their field, they must consistently strive to connect with students to better communicate course material and ensure students are getting the most out of their course.

Supporting students in an effective way means that professors need to be available to answer questions. If a student has a genuine concern or question, it is the duty of the professor and the teaching assistants to respond properly. If students do not feel like their classrooms are a place where they can ask questions, then the environment the professor has created is not conducive to learning.

When a professor is not able to communicate with students and is not well-versed in how to manage a classroom, it can be detrimental to students for many reasons. I experienced this in courses I took this semester.

In a lecture class of 150 people, my professor has repeatedly said over the course of the semester that concepts discussed in class are “easy” and that it is confounding that students do not understand the material. It is unacceptable for professors to embarrass students in front of any number of their peers, let alone 100 or more of them. The fact that the professor would dismiss questions because the material is simple is equally inappropriate – clearly the professor is not doing their job if students cannot grasp the topics they discuss.

This particular course is an introductory course. Therefore it would make sense that some students – myself included – are taking it to knock out basic requirements. But because there are no prerequisites, the professor cannot reasonably expect every student to enter the course with knowledge of the subject and they must expect that students are at various levels of understanding. Professors can better cater to all students by structuring their lesson plans to support students who may be further behind. This is especially true in science, technology, engineering and math classes – where if a student doesn’t understand a key formula or equation, the semester will become increasingly stressful and difficult with each passing day. By having more support in their lesson plans, professors can address the needs of more students, increase overall student understanding and decrease the time needed to review or reteach material.

In another class I am taking this semester, a professor explained that whether students learn in this course is not up to them. The professor went on to explain that students have access to the course textbook and additional online materials, and therefore whether students decide to review – and in this professor’s eyes, learn – the material is ultimately their choice.

But my professor is wrong. And they need to keep in mind that their words can have a significant impact on a student because of their role as an educator.

While students must take steps to ensure they understand the course material by doing the assigned homework, it is the professor’s job to expand on that material and communicate course information effectively to teach students. Any student with an internet connection can read a PowerPoint presentation on Blackboard or conduct a Google search to read articles about a particular topic, but it is the professor’s job to enrich a student’s learning experience beyond what they can find on the internet and cement the information the students learn.

Professors must take more responsibility for their students’ learning. Even if a professor chose to work for GW because of the University’s research acumen, they must fulfill their responsibility as a teacher and take time to create meaningful lessons for their students.

Professors may, as many already do, suggest that students hold their questions and email them, attend office hours or simply remain after class – but shirking responsibility or embarrassing students for asking questions must never be tolerated in the classroom.

Matthew Zachary, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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