Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Collegian or its editorial board.
You are a professor at a prestigious university. It’s your first day of class. You will be standing in front of hundreds of students today. You have worked and studied and prepared for this moment for the past seven years. You know that you have the credentials to speak in front of these students with intelligence and authority. The struggle of today will be getting them to realize that.
Second period of the day and you already feel like a failure. Some girl in your first class spent the whole two hours messaging on her laptop and stalking her Facebook friends. Now some know-it-all boy tells you that the years you’ve spent preparing for this day have been wasted because times have changed, society has evolved and because of it your expertise are somehow outdated. The people who were supposed to favor your knowledge and hunger for your insight have in one day made you feel like you are not worth listening to. You are not worth their time, efforts or undivided attention.
There is this unspoken standard in higher education that the students have the power. They think that because they are paying to be here, they have a say in what teachers should or shouldn’t teach and how they should or shouldn’t teach. When it’s really the students who are gaining the most out of this relationship. The simple reason that they are paying to be here does not give them the authority to treat professors with anything less than respect and honor.
I have sat in classes before that have made me sick to my stomach because the students are unbelievably rude to the professor. It’s intimidating to speak in front of a full room of students, especially if you are new to it. When students stand in front of the class to speak, they expect grace and leniency from their audience. However, when the roles are reversed students expect professors to be perfect and when they aren’t, they are punished for it.
The punishments are a lot harsher towards professors of color, women and lower ranked professors (associate professors, teaching assistants, graduate students…etc.). In 2015, the University of Michigan conducted a study surveying faculty about their experiences with disrespectful students. In terms of the types and levels of disrespect shown, the study tested for total negative behavior by students, inattentive rudeness, the challenging of expertise, overall disrespect shown and expression of anger. While all faculty deal with disrespect in the classroom to some extent, the study concluded that it was heightened for professors of color, women, professors who taught social sciences and junior faculty.
Professors who do not fall into those minority categories still recognize that their teaching experience will differ from their colleagues. In any situation respect is a must, and it needs to go both ways.
Teachers who struggle with this, remember, it is your classroom. You have every right to demand respect. Make it a non-negotiable from the first day of class.
Students who struggle with this; lead by example. When that’s not enough, use your voice. Your peers will respect you for using it.
In other countries, there is respect for elders, parents and teachers. These three groups are held in high esteem, because these are the people responsible for setting the standards for future generations. They are the ones that teach values, character, knowledge and much more. However, for some reason this concept has been lost on the students within higher education.
The professors here at Colorado State University do so much more than students can see from attending a lecture three times a week. Some are authors, all are researchers to some extent, and few are even world famous at their craft. It takes months to prepare a curriculum and design a course that contains all the information necessary, and that can be learned in 16 weeks. It takes time every day to prepare lecture notes, be presentation ready, and assemble the confidence needed to educate with the level of authority and intelligence all these professors teach with. It’s not always easy to see a different point of view. As much as students would like to believe, professors don’t just walk into class and lecture about whatever is on their mind that day. It takes time, dedication, and an intense amount of effort.
Professors literally instill students with the knowledge and skills that will equip them with what it takes to be successful in their chosen field. Professors deserve more than students coming to office hours when they fail a test. Professors deserve more than students demanding more extra credit because they need a GPA booster. Professors deserve more than students thinking they have a right to dictate how class should be structured. It starts with us, and it starts with respect.
Tianna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and online @