I Am Not Your Boss: I Teach You

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There was a tweet yesterday from the CEO of a private company that runs charter schools in the USA. The tweet reveals several misunderstandings about higher education. I replied immediately, and the tweet was quite popular.

Firstly, and most importantly, trying to overlay a workplace ethos/mentality on the teacher-student relationship in higher education, is incorrect. Yes, the students are paying tuition fees, for the right to sit in class, and be helped with their education. Notice that I deliberately don’t say “receive an education” because that implies a one-way process, whereby the teacher imparts knowledge to the student. This is not what happens. Yes, there is some transmission of information, and hopefully experience from teacher to student, but the process involves the student developing their own powers of learning, moving to self-directed learning, and growing intellectually. This means that the relationship between teacher and student is far more complicated than that between employer and employee, and the student is expected to participate in the whole process, as their education proceeds, and they grow intellectually. It is not a command driven process — I cannot order a student to learn. I can push them in the right directions with assigned work, and classroom learning and laboratory experience, but if the student doesn’t participate, then I can’t compel them to. Students are adults, and need to be self-motivated to want that degree or certificate enough to commit a significant effort towards getting it.

Being at college or university is not a job. Most students have a job, it’s how they fund their education. Being in higher education is a commitment, and a personal statement, and will require some sacrifices to succeed. You are paying money for the opportunity to learn, not to be remunerated for your services.

And, unless you are in a professional program, then what you wear makes absolutely no difference to the teacher. We are not interested in superficiality, we are interested in your learning, your diligence, your efforts in grasping the subjects we teach. If you want to impress us, do the work. Go beyond the assigned work. Question us. Make us work hard to answer the questions. We will push you intellectually. You should push us. Make us teach you better. Push our pedagogy to the limits. We like that.

You may find that the teachers dress in a variety of ways — personally I like wearing a shirt and tie when I teach, but I’m probably the exception, not the rule. I honestly don’t mind what you wear, as long as you are comfortable, and are participating in my classes.

Fluorescent Ibis Tie. I have a different tie for each class.

Finally, and very importantly, when you move from a school, with a relatively strict dress-code, disciplinary measures and prescriptive teaching methods, then it can be a big shock to move into higher education. Managing that transition from school to post-secondary education is difficult, and causes many students to struggle, or even drop out. We won’t chase you up if work is not delivered — that’s your responsibility. If you skip classes, then that’s on you — you are paying your tuition for your education. Don’t waste the money. Take full advantage of everything offered.

Me and my colleagues can teach you, but only if you want to learn. How you dress will not make a difference, your enthusiasm and willingness are what count.