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STUDENT VOICES

An anonymous letter to Professor Godfrey

Wherein an imaginary student pens a letter to a fictional prof, raising some real-life classroom issues.

By ALEX HARDING | February 4, 2015

Almost a year ago, 10 Canadian postsecondary students were named 3M National Student Fellows, awarded by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and 3M Canada. The annual award honours up to 10 university and college students who have shown outstanding leadership in their lives and at school. The 2014 cohort chose, as a capstone project, to write a series to start a discussion on “the importance of adapting postsecondary [education] to the needs of learners in the 21st century.”

University Affairs was delighted to be asked by these student leaders to act as the forum to present their views to the broader postsecondary community. The opinion pieces, each by a 3M student fellow, will run in this space between February and April 2015.

Dear Dr. Godfrey,

You may find it surprising, but we’ve been talking about you after class. We like learning about Quantelectrocyclicogralithimy, but we feel like we haven’t learned a thing about you. You stride right in, point to your slides, ask us “Do you all get it?” and glide back out – a little lighter than when you started. We’re not sure if you’re from England or outer space. Perhaps in your spare time, you uncover ancient artifacts or lead a team of superhumans against otherworldly threats. We’ll likely never know.

So professor, you’re a bit of an enigma. We don’t know anything about you, so how can we trust you? You teach a class of 200, many spending our first years away from home. We’re treading water, and our lecture hall – your theatre – can be a sea of anxiety. If I fail the midterm, how will Mom react? I’ll never make up for the week I missed. I don’t understand, I don’t understand, I don’t understand.

But, professor, you’ll actually never hear most of this. We wonder sometimes if those evaluations we toss haphazardly into the void ever cause you surprise. You see, we don’t open up to you and we don’t answer your in-class comprehension surveys because we’re afraid of the unknown – a little intimidated by your incredible professionalism. You want to be our mentor (not our friend), and we understand that. Remember, though, that being professional does not necessitate being distant.

Of course, we know you’re trying. You started learning names last week, even though eight Emily’s and six Michael’s per semester may be a bit much to handle. You also tried commandeering an iPad to show us just how 2015 you really were. But we think you’re missing the point, professor – you don’t need a touchscreen to stay in touch.

That research you do into spiral-helix thingamajobbers? It’s not boring. Tell us about it sometime, and you may be amazed by the questions that can only be conceived by an army of the utterly-dumbfounded. Give us the rundown. Show us why you need your medium (or large) double-double from Tim Hortons just as badly as we do, and we’ll recognize you as one of our own. After all, your publications couldn’t be any zanier than Dr. Glentworth’s – but we were so moved by her work on waste transport that we awarded her a round of applause and the affectionate title: “Queen of Compost”.

And you know that most of us still think you’re brilliant, right? So share with us: where did you struggle with this class a long (or short) time ago? I promise, you’ll see eyes light up and pencils begin to race when we hear that even the mighty Dr. Godfrey needed to practice his linear differential equations. As for the questions you’ll get afterwards – simply know that it’s much harder to say “I find this difficult” than it is to say “so do I”.

There’s hope. Even though you don’t take attendance, and even though there may be free videos out there on every single topic you’ll ever teach us, we still come to your lectures. Maybe we’re crazy, or maybe we’re secretly wishing that you’ll learn from us as well. Humans are taught best by other humans – so please, professor – educate us on the many ways that you are one.

Yours in scholarship,
Anonymous

ABOUT ALEX HARDING
Alex Harding
Alex Harding is a fourth-year electrical engineering student at Dalhousie University and a 2014 3M National Student Fellow.
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  1. Dina Brooks / February 4, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    What an excellent letter! The importance of connecting is the best way to teach. Thank you for the student voice and thank you for reinforcing that being human and acting human goes a long way. As a professor and a mother of a first year university student, I related to the message in so many ways. When I hear my son talk about his professors, I feel the true disconnect between professors and students. Maybe I will share that with my class next time!

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