Teaching and Learning Tip #44: Managing Expectations

December 11, 2018

Tip #44: Managing Expectations

Enoch Hale, Ph.D., Director Center for Teaching and Learning & Academic Technology

Throughout my years of teaching, I find myself in a wide range of emotions at this point in the semester.  Admittedly, this is the first semester I have not taught in years, so different emotions have surfaced; however, being one semester removed from the classroom is not so distant that I have forgotten what it feels like as the course comes to an end.  One of my historically typical emotions I wish to highlight here is frustration. Frustration I often feel due to unmet expectations. Frustration that I was not able to get to the depth of the subject that I find intriguing. Frustration with a multitude of requests for grading exceptions.  Frustration that I wasn’t able to connect with all students in a way that helped all of them be successful without sacrificing rigor. Frustration that I have to do this again and don’t have a clear idea of what I can and will do differently. I am speaking for myself, my history. I am not generalizing or projecting my emotional reactions onto others.  I am being vulnerable as a way to say that teaching is a challenge particularly in relation to expectations I have long held.

There is a sense in which every course we teach is built on expectations.  We work to make them as clear as possible in an attempt to manage student expectations.  My frustration, however, is a consequence of my thinking so I must ask: What am I doing to manage my expectations in ways that do not compromise the teaching and learning values upon which I base my work as a teacher, a thinker, and a human?  If anyone has any good ideas, please read the last paragraph of this post.  In the meantime, I work to regularly remind myself of the big picture.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a reminder of one dimension in the big picture.  Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Stommel presented me with an opportunity to revisit this picture in an article titled: Teaching the Students We Have, Not the Students We Wish We Had.  After reading this piece, I closed my email and sat back at my desk to reflect on my thinking as an educator, as one who works with faculty, as a part of this system we call higher ed.  If nothing else, it’s food for thought.

One purpose of these tips is to help translate abstract ideas into practical application.  It is in this orientation that I ask: What do you do well that meets students where they are?  Personally, I am also interested in how you teach in ways that you find personally rewarding.  After all, educators are just as much a part of the learning ecosystem as are students. I invite you to send the CTL your ideas. We want to begin to record the excellent work that is currently being done so that we can share broadly.  In this sense, we are a tremendous resource for furthering student success, so please share your ideas, artifacts, activities.

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