Problem solving

Regardless of the demographics of your college or university students, consistently encourage, in a positive and non-judgmental manner, self-direction and responsibility in all students. In recent years, our society seems to have fostered–in both overt and tacit ways–a sense of victimization among those who face challenges. This has had an impact on many students and they will judge your standards and procedures accordingly. Be intellectually prepared and consistently willing to share quietly why it is in your students’ best long-term interest to rise to your high expectation of quality in their assignments and examinations. While they will often dispute your words initially, most will finish the term thanking you for pushing them to turn out their best work.

Some students, especially those with low self-esteem or who have experienced especially difficult histories, will challenge your best-intended words as discriminatory. At such times, you will be buoyed by working diligently and deliberately to proactively build your understanding of your students early in the course. It is critical that in preparing each class meeting that you think through your words prior to addressing topics which have a gender, racial, political or related sensitivity, so if challenged, you can accurately share exactly what was said.

Given the nature of your students’ lifestyles, you can assume some common problems: tardiness, absences, being ill prepared for some examinations, occasional lack of focus and perhaps others. By this time, you have no doubt come to realize their inevitability. Rather than becoming upset and taking punitive action, I suggest you plan for these situations and build solutions into the design of your course.

For example, since students will occasionally be late due to work or family obligations, do what you can to minimize the impact of their tardy entry into your classroom by reserving a section of the room for late-arrivers. Should you find several weeks into the course that the overwhelming majority of the class is a few minutes late, you might enlist the class’s help in finding alternative solutions that will allow everyone to learn the content and experience the class fully.

We have always believed that when an effective learning environment is established in each classroom, absences and other student motivation problems largely take care of themselves. While there will always be a minority whose behavior is inconsistent with your acceptable standards, it is critical not to punish the entire group of students for a few students’ actions. The key is timely, unemotional, and frank confrontation of the problem. Ignoring the problem, hoping it will “fix itself” will, as in most other arenas of life, lead to unsatisfactory results. From the first class meeting, it is critical to demonstrate structure, establish your standards, reinforce them through consistent behavior and take action promptly when warranted.

You can learn much more about teaching all the different kinds of students who are in today’s college classroom by reading the book *Teaching College in an Age of Accountability* (Allyn & Bacon). The book was written by Richard Lyons & Meggin McIntosh (the author of this article).

To learn more ideas that you can use as a faculty member, be sure to check out Top Ten Productivity Tips and Meggin.com.

(c) Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D., “The PhD of Productivity®”. Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc., Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do. Sound interesting? It is!

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