Students and Teachers


Student Attitudes
Between the 1940s and 1990s, there have been significant shifts in student attitudes toward education and teachers. Student attitudes are shaped to some degree or another by time frame and type of institution. For example, student motivation and work habits in an art school can be expected to differ from those found at a state university art department. All student attitudes changed drastically during and following the period of student activism associated with the 1960s.

It is important for teachers to be aware of, and sensitive to, student attitudes as they shape motivation and behavior. The effectiveness of an educational program can be greatly enhanced if instruction is in sync with prevailing student interests. The difficult part is knowing when to build on student interests and when to challenge them.

Student expectations of what a teacher should be are sometimes unrealistic. Too often the teacher is expected to embody all the Hollywood notions of the mentor as an orator, philosopher, eccentric but wise and nurturing person with all the answers. Teachers are human and they vary enormously in style and abilities. I have had teachers who were inarticulate, but they were effective even if unorthodox in their teaching methods. Some teachers were inspirational by their enthusiasm, others created respect through professional accomplishment and they served as valuable role models; yet others incurred respect by exhibiting an amazing knowledge of the field.

During recent years, there have been increasing numbers of students who believe they must like the teacher in order to do well. If students do not like the teacher, they are less productive at the least, and in the extreme, become rebellious, transfer, drop out or fail. They are putting more emphasis on a personal relationship with the teacher than on education. It is not important that students like teachers but it is extremely important that students respect teachers. My observation has been that teachers who attempt to cultivate students to like them will invariably end up without respect.

Graphic Design education tends to be rather informal with students and teachers on a first name basis. I would suggest that during the first year, the relationship should be more formal. The student right to informality with teachers should be earned and not automatic. It is earned by commitment and hard work. No matter how informal the working relationship, teachers should let students know that there is a line which they cannot cross. Under no circumstances should informality include teachers dating or living with students. It is entirely too destructive to other students and instructional integrity.

There are always students who conduct themselves in a positive and responsible manner, but today, there are serious problems with student attitudes which are inhibitive to learning. Too many students want teachers to give them an education even if they have to force them to learn. Students expect the impetus for learning to come from teachers rather than from themselves.

Since World War II, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of homes where both parents are working. One result of this is that student attitudes and values are shaped more by peer group pressures than by parents. As a teacher at the university level, I often found myself having to fulfill a parental role, particularly in the area of values. What was once learned at home from parents is now learned in university from teachers. These values pertain to self-discipline and commitment including perseverance, a sense of responsibility and the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Within our society, youngsters are conditioned to feeling that they have to please parents and most adults. They do not always understand that restrictions or demands might have do with concern for their safety or well-being. When students reach the university as young adults, they are naturally resentful of having to please everyone else; they want to do what interests them and to be themselves. They do not realize that the situation has changed, and from this point on, the parental role diminishes and they have responsibility for their own conduct. What they are asked to do does not have so much to do with pleasing others as it does with shaping their future. This attitude of pleasing is most apparent when a frustrated student blurts out to the teacher, “Is this what you want?” Students are expected to do what the teacher asks, but at the same time, they have to recognize that they are doing it for their benefit, not the teacher’s.

Attitudes often spring from rebellion against doing what someone else wants. If students do not believe that assignments are pertinent to their interests, they are likely to sluff the work. To some extent, this reflects student perception of teachers shifting from authority figures to service persons. Students believe that if they pay tuition, they should be able to do what, how and when they want, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to assist them in that task. The student notion of teachers as service personnel has been strongly reinforced by administration introducing the procedure for student evaluation of teachers.

Students often believe that attending university automatically results in an education. During the seventies, one student told me, “I pay tuition and attend classes. This proves my commitment to education.” There is a student assumption that if they attend class and do every assignment they should receive a high grade. They want problems defined to a point that if they do everything they are told, they cannot fail.


Student Attitudes (continued) >  

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