When class is a sleeper, it could be the teaching

Joanne Roepke

All right, I’ll be the first to admit that I am often slow to figure out things that everyone else seems to know. For instance, last weekend amidst a discussion between a friend and I about mutual dislike for a certain professor from whom we both had taken a class, I discovered that professors are not required to have any official teaching training before they are allowed to teach. It turns out that they only have to earn a masters or a doctorate in their areas of study.

Aha! This explains why some of my professors who seem knowledgeable, suddenly turn into absolute dorks in the classroom. Some people simply don’t have the skills to take the information in their brains and communicate it to students.

While I was glad I finally discovered this, I can’t deny that I thought the whole deal was a bunch of happy crappy. How can we justify not insisting on some kind of training for college professors, who very well may be the last instructors with whom students will have contact before they enter the working world? Education majors have to attend school for four years, learning things like creating a grading system, writing an effective test and the specifics of playground etiquette before they are let loose in the classroom.

Lately, I’ve been told that you shouldn’t complain about a problem without a solution floating around in your head, so I came up with a little plan for the university to decide which professors should stay and which should be gathered up and forced to work on the campus outdoor maintenance crew until the snow melts.

The problem of ineffective teachers could be solved if, before we hired them on staff or if during their annual evaluations, we gave them a three-part test regarding their teaching abilities.

Question number one: Can you keep the students awake during lecture?

I don’t know about anyone else, but staying awake during class is often a challenge for me. I have had professors who could put me to sleep even after two or three strong cups of joe. Am I just unusually susceptible to naps? Perhaps, but if the professor were more skilled at holding my attention, it probably wouldn’t be so easy for me to slip away into dreamland.

A perfect example is an economics class that I took last year. Every day the professor would turn on the overhead, turn down the lights, and put slides up with notes on them. He would then read the notes to us, page by page. How interesting! How intriguing! Oh, and by the way, you could buy your very own copy of these notes at Copyworks. Would you bother going to class? Students who did attend class were very few and very sleepy. The worst part is, this situation is not unique.

If the university decided to use this three-part exam, I would be more than willing to be a test-student. If a professor can interest me for 45 minutes to an hour, great! They’re in!

(Just a hint to those who also have trouble staying awake in class: Try eating peppermints when you start feeling the sleepies coming on. It helps me tremendously!)

Question number two: Which one is more important, the student or the research?

In my area of study, I don’t run across this very often, but among my friends in the scientific studies, I’ve heard grumbling that this can be true. When it comes down to it, students should be higher on the priority list than a research project on which the professor is working.

Question number three: Does the professor actually like the subject he or she is teaching?

You would think this would be a given, wouldn’t you? Yet, it isn’t. In my speech communication 212 class, one that practically everyone and his mother have to take to graduate from Iowa State, the professor addressed us with the following words of encouragement on our first day of class: “I know you all hate being here, and that you dreaded taking this class. You think public speaking is fate worse than death.”

If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what does. I thought she might go on and explain how public speaking could be fun, good for you, blah blah blah, but such optimistic words never escaped her lips. From day one, she told us how much we would hate it, so hate it we did.

To be fair, I’ve also had many professors who truly seem to enjoy the students as well as the subjects they are teaching. These are the teachers who probably have the most success in getting their students to class, and can keep their attention during lectures or discussions. These are the few who are remembered a semester, or maybe even years, later and can rightfully call themselves teachers.

It’s a shame there aren’t more of that kind.

As soon as the university is ready to put my little plan to work, I hope it gives me a call. Until then, I guess I’ll buy more peppermints.

Joanne Roepke is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Aurora.