Everyone has had a ‘chill’ teacher at some point in their life — a teacher who is willing to take their hands off the wheel a little bit, and allow students to dictate the speed of the class.
Over the past few years at Paly, I’ve had my fair share of teachers who were willing to give their students more freedom than is typical. However, a lack of clear goals or direction for a course can cause decreased motivation in students and harm academic performance. Regardless of teaching style, any instructor who wants to lead a successful class needs to make sure that their students know what is expected of them.
Certainly, there’s no problem with teachers who are willing to make their class less stressful or work intensive, but issues start to present themselves when teachers begin to let up a little too much.
A less-involved teacher can end up creating a classroom environment no one can focus in, where expectations are unclear and there is little to no incentive to do work. If expectations are not made clear very early on, classes typically tend to derail fast. Truly effective teaching needs to set clear expectations and goals early.
According to the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, setting clear goals in an instructional environment increases motivation and achievement. This is corroborated by a study conducted by Morisano et al, who found a 30 percent increase in academic performance among college students that set clear goals compared to those that did not.
In 1996, William L. Sanders and June C. Rivers conducted a study regarding the impacts of effective teaching on student performance. Their findings concluded with the shocking statistic that an ineffective teacher can cause as much as a 50 point deficit in students’ test scores or assessments. They also found that, as teacher effectiveness increases, lower scoring students are the first to benefit. Similar findings were discovered in studies by Robert L. Mendro in 1998. It is undeniable that an ineffective teacher can severely impact a student’s results.
Believe me when I say I recognize the temptation to slack off. In classes where students are trusted with more freedom when deciding assignment schedules, many students succumb to the urge to push everything off as far as possible and spend hours on end doing nothing productive. Knowing that you might not be held accountable for the work you do not complete only compounds the issue. However, this is one of the many pitfalls that a lazy teacher can expose a student to, and learning to keep yourself on schedule can be key to surviving the year.
This is not to say that teachers who stay flexible are in the wrong. In fact, flexibility is an asset for any class. The main issue is drawing a clear line between staying open to change and blatantly not having some sort of plan or goal in mind for the class. After a while in any public schooling system, most students should have a decent idea of what both sides of the fence look like. Most students will also likely remember which class they learned better in, and which class ended up feeling like a waste of time.
A common sentiment, especially at Paly, is that the credit a class gives is more important than the actual learning. To many students, the ideal class is one that counts for honors or AP credit but has a teacher that will keep the class easy. The problem with this outlook is that, even if the credit is obtained, students are still stuck in classes that they may not want to be in, further draining motivation on top of the detriments that come with a directionless course.
Ultimately, the responsibility of creating a successful class falls to both the teacher and the students. Teachers need to step up and make expectations clear, regardless of how much work they assign or how difficult the material might be. Similarly, students need to set personal goals and work outside of class to ensure that they do not fall behind. Learning doesn’t need to a chore, and goal-setting is the best way to make the task of graduating from high school a little less overwhelming.