Ten Habits of Highly Ineffective STEM Instructors (RF)

Does your class frequently look like the one on the left? If it does, some of the ideas in this post may be worth thinking about.

There are no recipes for good teaching. For almost every teaching tip you can find in our book and other references on effective pedagogy, you can find someone well known as a good teacher who doesn’t do things in the recommended way. The same thing is true of bad teaching: we can strongly caution our readers not to do something and you can find excellent teachers who do it with no evil consequences. There are, however, certain teaching practices that may not guarantee poor learning or low student evaluations but definitely push classes in that direction. Here are ten of them.

  1. On Day 1 of a course, assume the students remember and understand everything in the prerequisite courses and jump directly into material brand new to them. Whenever you start a new topic, again plunge right in, without bothering to mention what it has to do with anything the students are likely to care about, be interested in, or know anything about from previous coursework.
  2. Devote most of your course to theoretical principles and mathematical abstractions. If students ask why they need to know all that, tell them that they need to master the “fundamentals” before they get to the practical applications later in the curriculum or after they graduate.
  3. Put your lecture notes on PowerPoint slides and spend all of each class session reading the slides to the students, word for word. No activities—assume the students will learn how to perform complex analyses or solve tough problems just by watching you do it.
  4. Occasionally ask questions during class and either call on individual students immediately or give the answers yourself if no one answers in two seconds or less. Ridicule students who give “dumb” answers.
  5. Assign homework infrequently or not at all. If you assign it, make sure it takes a lot more than two hours out of class for each class hour, and let many weeks elapse before you grade and return it.
  6. Give straightforward problems on assignments and complex or tricky problems on tests. If students complain, tell them (a) they have to learn how to think for themselves, or (b) you’re curving grades so it doesn’t matter.
  7. Make up your tests the night before you give them and don’t bother working out the solutions. If you or the students discover a glitch during a test, tell the class (a) to correct the problem statement and start over, or (b) you’re curving grades so it doesn’t matter.
  8. Give tests that only the top students in the class have time to finish. If students complain, tell them (a) if they really knew the material they wouldn’t have had any trouble finishing, or (b) you’re curving grades so it doesn’t matter.
  9. When your class average on a test is 43 (out of 100), take it as proof that the students are incompetent or lazy or both. Share that opinion with them. Never consider the possibilities that either you did a poor job of covering the test content in class or it was a poorly written test.
  10. If you get dismal course evaluations, assure yourself that it’s because (1) you set higher standards than your colleagues, or (2) you’re not an “entertainer,” or (3) students don’t know enough to evaluate teaching. Add that even though they don’t like you now, in a few years they’ll recognize how good you really were. (Note: Research says that’s possible but highly unlikely.)  Never consider the possibility that the evaluations may be justified.
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