Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Learn to Think for Yourself

If there is one thing that has bothered me more than any other in my first semester of teaching it is the fact that too many of my students don't want to think for themselves. They want me (and others) to tell them what to do and what to think. I've had students who I advise come into my office to schedule classes and not know what classes they need to graduate. OK, maybe no one has shown them how to tell. I accepted that for this semester and then spent the time to walk them through the graduation audit report so that they know. After that, though, came things I didn't understand. I have upper level students tell me that they've never had to think about what they want to take because their adviser would pick out their classes for them. (A few students also told one of the other professors about me that "She makes us pick out our own classes!" Go figure.) I've tried to explain that although that would be much easier for me because I could quickly run through and do that for each person without them even having to be in my office, it isn't what's best for them. Also, if I picked out their classes, I'd have them in requirement classes I like, things like Russian Lit and Middle Eastern History. I gave them a hall pass for this semester, but told them I expect them to come in next time with at least an idea of what they need/want to take.

My favorite story came from a fellow professor who had a student come in and ask for a catalog. A fellow student (maybe her boyfriend) had to come up with the classes he thought he wanted to take before meeting with his adviser (me). His girlfriend told the professor that I had made the statement that I wasn't their mom. I would help them and direct them and guide them, but not do for them, which I did say to students. The funny part to me, though, is that I was trying to get students to think for themselves and he turned to his girlfriend to do it for him, still not thinking for himself!

I often get asked, too, if I will find internships for them. The answer I give them is that I will help them find an internship. I will go to the ends of the earth to help them find an internship that fits their interests and needs, help them prepare their resume and cover letter, do mock interviews, you name it, but I will not hand hold or babysit. At some point they have to be able to do for themselves.

I've had this posting drafted for over a month. I'm prompted to post it after a conversation with a professor in my division who has been teaching for nearly 30 years noted the same thing today about his students. One of the most important things you can take away from your education is the ability to think for yourself. Your professors aren't here to do everything for you. They're here to help you learn to think for yourself so that you can go out and achieve your dreams.

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