10 Terrible Mistakes College Teachers Make

( Reprinted with permission from AdjunctAssistance.com. )

Confused about how to teach? The best thing you can do is avoid mistakes. There are 10 Terrible Mistakes College Teachers Make. Learn how to avoid teaching mistakes.

Most of the college instructors I have known don’t make these 10 terrible mistakes. The ones who do don’t last long. Here are 10 ways in which instructors, mainly new adjuncts, demonstrate an inability to teach, a lack of concern for their job as a teacher, and/or negative feelings toward students.

The “I Can’t Teach” Mistakes

Some adjuncts, those with little or no prior teaching experience, may not intuitively know how to teach. Based on my experience, the overriding problem is not this lack of knowledge and skill but the fact that these instructors don’t seem interested in learning.

There are two groups of adjuncts who make the following three mistakes. There are those teaching career and technical education (CTE) courses who lack the innate skills to be a teacher. Some of the best instructors I know teach CTE courses, but for whatever reason this group produces more than its share of failures. There are also instructors with advanced degrees, often doctorates, who cannot relate to their students. I have seen this several times with science instructors who had worked in industry for years.

There is so much that goes into teaching. I am not attempting to claim that only three knowledge or skill base mistakes may result. But what I list are three critical mistakes that students don’t like and which can lead to the demise of an instructor.

  1. Telling vs. Teaching – These instructors tell their students what they need to know. This is a type of lecturing void of examples and without student involvement. These instructors do not engage the class. They do nothing to make their students think.
  2. Reading – There are few things that annoy students more than reading to them out of the textbook, yet this is a complaint I hear. And this is one I recently witnessed during a classroom observation. If you want your students to think you are not prepared and that you don’t know.
  3. Rich Learning Experiences – Some instructors fail to use technology in the classroom to enrich the learning experience. For example, they don’t use PowerPoints and the don’t utilize relevant resources on the Web. Some don’t use it outside the classroom either. They pass up the opportunity to create a teaching presence using programs like Blackboard and Moodle. There are many other ways to create rich learning experiences such as films, role playing, field trips, group work, and much, much more. However, these instructor fail to employ them.

The “I Don’t Care” Mistakes

Most if not all instructors will tell you they care, but they don’t always back that up with their actions. Many of them are adjuncts with full-time jobs who want to teach for two reasons. They like talking about their area of expertise and they want some extra income. There are three mistakes these instructors make, and that is not counting the major, overriding faux pas. They should not have attempted to teach if they didn’t love teaching.

  1. Preparation – These instructors assume they can wing it and come to class without a lesson plan. They seem to think they can awe their students with their knowledge and experience. What awes their students is the instructor’s lack of preparation and resultant inability to help them learn. For more on this check out my article entitled Do Boy Scouts Make the Best Instructors?
  2. Efficiency – Some instructors don’t effectively use the entire class period, which means they don’t give their students what they paid for. They arrive late, use the first part of class for their own preparation time, waste time telling stories and chatting, grant long breaks, and dismiss class early. Pretty cushy job if you can get it. Some seem to think this was the job they signed on for, but sooner or later learn they were wrong.
  3. Quality – I first addressed this issue in an earlier article entitle The Perceived Quality of a College Instructor. These individuals have poor board skills. If they use slides the slides are poorly done. Their handouts look like copies of copies of copies. They may be blurred, canted at an angle, or off-centered so that some of the text cut off. These instructors don’t project a professional appearance. On a couple occasions, I have had to speak to an adjunct about his attire. Teachers wearing ragged cutoffs and flip-flops don’t cut it in my classrooms.

The “I Don’t Like You” Mistakes

The reality is that there will be students you don’t like. Under most circumstances, however, you should avoid displaying verbally or through body language that you do not care for such a student. Of course, when a student displays an offensive or threatening behavior, you must take decisive action. At these times don’t worry about displaying your disdain for the student. But don’t lower yourself to the student’s level.

Some instructors send signals to their students which the students interpret as he/she doesn’t like me. If your students like you, they will forgive a multitude of teaching sins. However, I can assure you that they won’t like you if you don’t like them. You cannot fake this. My belief is that when instructors display these last four behaviors they really don’t care for their students.

  1. Getting to Know Students – Granted, this is difficult if not impossible in a large lecture section. Once, about half way through a semester, I was invited to speak to a class of 10 to 12 students. I couldn’t believe it. The instructor asked a student, “What’s your name again?” Recently, five students came to me with a list of complaints about their instructor, one of which had to do with name tags. They were seven weeks into the semester and there were only eight students but the instructor was making them wear name tags.
  2. Answering Questions – The instructor’s job is to help students learn. A common complaint I hear from students is that their instructor wouldn’t answer their questions. This sends the message that the instructor doesn’t care enough to help students. Or, it may be that he or she doesn’t know the answer. But if that is so, the instructor has displayed disregard for students by not being prepared to answer their questions.
  3. Responding to Messages – Another complaint I hear from students is that their instructor does not respond in timely fashion to their emails or phone messages. I don’t require my adjuncts to check their email every day. I tell them to do so just often enough so their students won’t run to me and complain,
  4. Attitude – I am both saddened and angered when I hear about an instructor who criticizes and ridicules students. Yes, I have known instructors like this. I had two instructors last fall who admitted to getting into classroom arguments with students. Occasionally I hear complaints from students about sarcasm, something I witnessed it for the first time in a recent classroom observation. An admittedly difficult student challenged the instructor who immediately retaliated with a sarcastic put-down. Remember, the instructor sets the tone for the class, not the students.

How to Avoid the 10 Terrible Mistakes

Avoid the “I Can’t Teach” mistakes by learning how to teach. Okay, I have once again stated the obvious, but why isn’t it obvious to some adjuncts? Talk to the person who hired you and ask about resources your college may have. Ask someone to observe you. Ask other instructors for advice. And, if all else fails, read my blog. (You knew that was coming. 😉 )

Avoid the “I Don’t Care” mistakes by putting in the time and effort. There are no shortcuts. Wait, maybe there is one. You can avoid these mistakes by not teaching. And interestingly enough, not teaching is the only way to avoid the “I Don’t Like You” mistakes. Sorry, there is no way around this one.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

March 5, 2011

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