Thoughts on Teaching – Presidential Visit – 9/7/13
No, not that president. I’m not that important. The college president stopped by and visited my class on Thursday. He did this last school year as well. I asked my Dean about that last year, and he said that the president considered it to be his right to stop in and see any class he wants to. At the same time, I don’t know of anyone else who has been visited, and I certainly don’t know of anyone who has had two visits in two years.
What was interesting, however, is that, unlike last year, the president talked to me this year afterwards, in an email. He made three observations:
- The students showed a striking lack of critical thinking.
- There was one student who was very disruptive.
- There was one student who was smoking a vapor cigarette in class.
So, how did I address those things.
For the first one, I confirmed what he saw. I said that students come to us from high school with very limited skills. They have very minimal critical thinking, writing, or reading skills. The nature of high school history in my state is dismal, with history generally being one of my students’ least favorite classes when they come to my class. Then, I talked about what I do with my students, that this is one of the big things that I emphasize over the course of my class, and that it is a very slow process to teach them something that they have not successfully learned in the 12 years before that. I also said that if I have the chance, that I generally see the biggest improvements when I have them for two semesters at a time. This is absolutely true. The students who stick with me and work through the assignments in my class over two semesters come out stronger. I’m not trying to brag, but when I can work with the same student for a whole school year, I can really start to make a difference.
On the second one, it was easy. I have an autistic student, and I have been warned by the college that he is likely to be disruptive. As he has as much of a right as any other student to be in my class, I have to manage it as best I can. The president agreed that I was doing the best job I could on that one.
The third took a bit of back and forth. The school policy is no tobacco products, and we have no policy on the vapor cigarettes. They apparently give off a water vapor when smoked, and, when I first saw it, I thought we had a fire in the classroom. After it was explained to me what it is, I really had no idea what to do with it, so I decided to let it go. However, the president was adamant that I should have stopped it in class, as it could be considered a distraction. What I replied back is that when we have no policy on those things specifically, then I really don’t know what to do about it. And, so, the result of that is that, as of Friday, we now have a policy on them that says we do not allow them in class.
So, it was an interesting day. Again, I don’t know if there’s any agenda in the president visiting my class two years in a row. But, like so many other things, I don’t really have any choice in the matter, and so, like so many other things, this is what we do.