Are we bothered? Yes, we are - but our lecturers must be, too

We'll turn up for lectures if you treat us with respect, give us feedback and remember our names, writes a mature first-year student

March 20, 2008

What makes a good lecturer? It's a good question, but to answer it we need to pose some other questions that every student has the right to ask: Is it in my best interest to drag myself to this lecture? Will I learn something of value? Will it improve my grades, chances of employment, professional ability?

But students are complex creatures and may not yet have learnt to articulate such insightful questions. What, in fact, might cross a student's mind is: can I really be bothered?

What the lecturer should always remember is that if students have turned up then they are bothered. They may not appear bothered, but if they weren't they wouldn't be there. Never underestimate the effort that it takes to turn up. It might mean fighting through many hazy layers of consciousness when the alarm goes off after just a couple of hours' kip and stumbling from halls to lecture theatre. The student's head may hurt, one eye may be almost closed and they will only be able to look out from under their fringe, but they will have made the effort.

Eventually, as students move off campus and pay bills, they will set the alarm earlier and a new era of responsibility will dawn, all thanks to the fact that they could be bothered - and in their first year, too! No lecturer should be unaware of this great weight on their shoulders - for if students become turned off in the first year they may become demotivated and never recover.

Then there are the other learners you may well be unaware of: the mature students who have certainly been bothered. In fact, they may have given up salaries and are now living on fresh air and hope. They may have had to get children to school or to nursery and driven for an hour to get to your lecture. They have been up far longer than you and they don't have the comfort of your salary and job security. They are putting their relationships, finances, identity and possibly sanity on the line - and for what? "Oh, sorry, cancelled today, got the time wrong, let's start later and finish just half an hour earlier, OK?" No, it's not OK. How about enabling us to be bothered about the deep and meaningful personal and professional issues we came here to resolve?

Facilitating our progress entails delivering sufficient information so we can fill in the gaps. But sufficient means just that - not giving us so much that our heads spin. Don't waste our time with stuff we can look up ourselves. We're not at school. Some of us are spending a lot of money just to be here. We understand the consequences of not doing the work.

We have precious little contact with you, so don't waste it by patronising us by reading out your snazzy PowerPoint slides - we can read. Tell us the stuff that will help us to make sense of those slides. Please point us in the direction of other good stuff that we will be able to understand and that won't scare us. Please answer our questions without making us feel stupid, or too clever, for asking them. We all come from very different places, so get to know us and treat us as individuals.

Yes, it's tough, but we all need different things from you - what turns one off turns another right on. Differentiation has worked in schools and further education colleges, and we all get on with each other as people with different skills to bring to our learning, so how about your getting to know us, too?

This relationship that we have to establish with you - well, it starts with you. You get to do all the talking, so be knowledgeable and impart that knowledge clearly and we will respect you; be confident in what you are trying to achieve and we will be guided by you; be passionate about your subject and we will share that passion; be professional and we will learn to be professional too; be kind and we will cut you some slack on your less than brilliant days (we have those, too).

But should you cancel or shorten lectures, read out slides, not give us any feedback for a whole term, patronise us with poor classroom management and by not treating us with the respect our intelligence deserves (no, we don't want to play games), we might just not be bothered.

If we are not bothered, we will not turn up - and then how are you going to learn our names?

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