Teaching Reflections: Punching Down and Read the Syllabus

The spring semester is coming to an end – which means social media is full of students complaining about faculty and vice-versa. Recently, a Twitter account, College Professor (@ReadtheSyllabus), came under punching down / arrogance / ignorance accusations after a tweet making fun of the “dead grandparent” excuse. Since then, there is actually an interesting conversation on student shaming.

As I was writing my course reflections, I realized it was very difficult to talk about higher education without, well,  some level of student shaming. At the end of the day, the students are part of the learning process and they need to invest heavily in their own learning both inside and outside the classroom. During the last four years, I found myself to give instructions that I thought were just common sense:

  • Such as the interpersonal communication tips,
  • Please take off your headphones in the classroom.
  • Please take off your headphones when we are having a one-to-one meeting.
  • Or ‘there is a reason why you are given those documents’ trope,
  • Refer to the textbook and in-class discussions in your final paper.
  • Your grading will be based on the rubric – that is why it is called the grading rubric.
  • Read the syllabus.
  • Keep the handouts I am distributing in class.
  • Or ‘who on earth would consider this to be okay’ part,
  • Do not fall asleep in the classroom
  • Do not fall asleep in the classroom two weeks in a row.
  • Do not fall asleep in the classroom three weeks in a row.
  • Or my favorite one – I have no idea how many times I sent this e-mail:
  • You realize that you sent me this e-mail while you were in my class…while I was lecturing…while you were supposed to be listening…

 My two cents on why this is happening and what we (or I) can do:


I would say there are three oxymorons in the current higher education climate which pushes faculty members to be more of a “teacher” and less of a “professor”. I wish I also get to only “profess” in my lectures but apart from a few exceptional institutions, I highly doubt we will get students ready for college-education.

Higher education is “higher” but is also a must-have 

Higher education, by its nature, should be selective. It is higher education. It should be the equivalent of running a marathon – as in everybody should know how to run to an extent but only a few committed people should specialize in running longer distances. Everybody should have some level of education but higher education should be for those who want to spend more time in acquiring specialized knowledge and skills.But a higher education degree is a must-have for nearly all white-collar professions.

Making higher education exclusive makes various financial and social opportunities inaccessible for the masses. So, we need to accept the fact that we are going to get students who probably should not have gone so far in their education. We will get students that do not have the reading / writing skills or even analytical thinking capabilities required for college-level education. Our classes have to remedy for the lack of these skills first.

Colleges need to retain students 


Who can say they have never done this?

We want the students to stay. Their continued enrollment ensures that we can keep the programs going therefore helps not only their learning but also learning of their classmates. There is indeed a need to keep the students satisfied with their education – however, student satisfaction seems to be more closely related with high grades through easy education than with quality of education. More often than not, we need to correct student behavior and sometimes we need to be harsh and strict.

Can you really retain students if faculty members sound like they are student shaming? Flipping the question, can you really retain faculty members if “read the syllabus” is seen as student shaming (and can you really retain students if there is a high faculty turnover)?

We want the students (and faculty) stay while managing to create an environment in which both are complaining about each other.

Students have “lives” 

Non-traditional student enrollment is rising. Even our traditional students are juggling a few jobs and sometimes families. Yet, our courses are still based on 1:2 ratio: for each hour spent in class, students will spend two hours studying. This understanding makes a regular course load into a 45-hour week.

Even if we assume the student only does the necessary readings which should take around an hour or two per course. We are still looking at a +25-hour week. Once you start adding up commute times, other commitments, and work schedules, it becomes very impressive that the students find the time to show up for class.

We expect our students to be fully present on campus and focusing on their studies but they have lives. They want to have to be active in other parts of their lives and still graduate in four years. They expect faculty members to respect their choices.

In conclusion, we need to update the faculty-student relationship. We need to create an environment that understands and respects the demands of both the students and the faculty.

  • The faculty needs to realize that we have the students we have and it is our job to make sure their graduate faculty members or supervisors do not complain about the behaviors we are complaining about right now.
  • The students need to realize that learning is their responsibility and they need to put in an advanced level of effort into their work to be successful in college.
  • Both parties need to realize social media is not the best platform to air their grievances. There is a time and a place for that and it is called Festivus.
  • Administration needs to act as the bridge between these two parties, sometimes explaining the expectations of one to the other.

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