One Conversation I Am No Longer Having with My Students #SOL24

March 22, 2024

Like all great educators, I steal all my best stuff, and my exit ticket for my students at the end of the last class of the week is no different. After Jacinta over at “Teach to learn. Learn to teach” posted that she learned a lot from having her students do minute papers with four reflection questions at the end of the week, I quickly jumped on that train by having my students respond to two prompts:

  • What’s the most important thing you learned in class this week?
  • What’s a question you still have?

The reflections have proven fruitful and are a way for students to both think about their learning and for me to catch things I may have missed that are working or not during lessons.

However, the first semester I implemented the reflections, I noticed a disturbing trend. Almost every week, I would get some variation of the following:

  • Why do you make the class so hard? 

AND/OR

  • Why do you give us so much work?

At first, I would answer gamely, reminding them of the Carnegie rule, which states that for every credit hour of a course, students are expected to spend two hours per week doing work. Since our class is four credits, they should be doing eight hours of work (six outside of class). So, I would say, “If you’re not doing eight hours of work, it’s not so much.”

After a while though, I started to get annoyed. 

It’s not that students were complaining about the workload. They do that all the time, and it literally does not matter how much work I give them. In fact, I have pointed out to students before that if I gave them two sentences to read, they would say it’s too much, and they all agreed with me. I teach a transfer-level required writing course, so students are there because they have to be, not necessarily because they want to be. So, you know, the complaints are just par for the course (that pun should have been fully intended, but it was not, alas). 

No, the problem I had is that the question is inherently sexist. 

As has been well documented, students rate male and female professors differently and, more importantly:

“When students gave descriptive feedback about instructors, they…came down harder on women when they weren’t conforming to the stereotype of being “supportive,” “interpersonal” or “warm.” Men who weren’t “warm” weren’t ranked as negatively.” – Are College Students Sexist? New Research Says They Grade Female Profs More Harshly – Cal Alumni Association

 

“[S]tudents often expect their male and female professors to behave in different ways or to act according to stereotypes (Anderson and Smith, 2005). Men are commonly characterized by ambition, domination, and independence, while women are often characterized for their compassion, emotional expressiveness, and other care-related characteristics (Koch et al., 2015).” – Does professors’ gender impact how students evaluate their teaching and the recommendations for the best professor? – PMC 

Or as I told my students:

  • I know they wouldn’t ask their male teachers why they assign so much work.
  • I hear how they talk about their male teachers.

To illustrate, I told them I have had several conversations with students who take certain male teachers and they’re always like, “Prof. So-and-So’s class was so good. He really challenged me. If you take his class, you’ll work so hard but you’ll learn so much.” student sexism meme distracted boyfriend

So I told them to think about why, when it’s a male teacher, it’s that he expects them to work hard, but when it’s a female teacher they ask why the class is so much work. Then I ask them if they would ever ask a male teacher why he assigns so much work. I didn’t expect an answer (nor did I get one), but I saw some of them considering the question or doing the nod of recognition that I was correct and, after that, I stopped getting the question as much/often and eventually stopped getting it all. 

Now, as soon as I get the question on their reflections, I get out my bud nippers and tell them I refuse to answer the question and then explain why it’s sexist. Students (like most people) aren’t aware of their internalized sexism until someone points it out, but if instructors take just a few minutes to ask students to notice or think about their thinking towards their instructors, that consideration can make a world of difference in how students approach their education and the educators they encounter going forward.

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