The more I travel around the globe and spend time with students, the more I realize despite their differences, they are very much the same. When I go and visit a university as a guest speaker for a day, or serve as a visiting lecturer for a short term (maybe a week), it is hard to really get to know the students because they “belong” to someone else. But when the class is your own, as the professor for a semester, you get to know the students. And often, this relationship really shapes the way the students act and interact with each other and you.
I’ve sat in on a number of classes taught by other faculty members in my department over the last three months. And I’ve come to realize that my style of teaching is completely contrary to what is typical here. The professors here are all very formal in their interactions. The students don’t speak unless spoken to, and even when the professor throws out a question the students seem almost intimidated to answer because they don’t want to be wrong.
Yesterday I accidentally hijacked another professor’s class. He asked me to comment on something he said and I did. But then I took it one step further and threw a question out to the class. Everyone stared at me. Then I said, “Come on people, show me some love, let’s hear what you’ve got to say!” The students laughed, and then all of a sudden there was a conversation going on between me and the class which lasted about 20 minutes. Afterward the professor said that was the best class he’d had all semester.
I’m really pleased with my students. I’ve developed a rapport with them which is similar to my students back in the U.S. In Texas I tend to have a constant revolving door, with students in and out of my office all the time. Sometimes they are there to talk about something class related, but often they come in just to visit. Or, “I have a break until my next class, so I thought I’d come hang out til then.” Recently I’ve seen the same trend with my students here, which is also atypical.
But the thing I find most interesting about my students is that this familiarity carries over into their assignments and tests. I don’t teach my students here how to make babies like I do back at TTU- sadly, only the Tech kids who are reading this will really get to appreciate the baby reference- but I have plenty of other ways of getting through to them, which has made a mark. I think one of the things my students, all of them, regardless of geographic location has taken away, is that I appreciate humor. I gave an exam last week and as I was going through grading them I realized all my students use the same principle: if they don’t know the answer, they make up something funny.
One of the questions on the exam was to name the New Seven Wonders of the World. Some of the answers included: my dog; the man walking on the moon; why do people listen to country music? (apparently they wonder about that); and one that was at least somewhat tourism-related, the Leaning Tower of Pizza. I sasked a student who gave me one of these answers about it and he told me, “I knew it would make you laugh. I knew you wouldn’t give me any points, but I figured at least you would think it was funny. I couldn’t get away with that in any of my classes, so I thought I would take advantage of it. So, would you like to meet my dog? He’s really cool.”