Analysis of My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student
Cultural anthropologist and author Rebekah Nathan noted with an alarming tone in her book, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, that even though students and professors interact with each other on a regular basis, they do not really understand each other. Both groups appear to be unaware or ignorant about the experiences of the other. As Nathan wrote:
This kind of ignorance, as international students argued, leads to misperceptions and sometimes intolerance at both ends. Students and faculty encounter each other in distinct hierarchical roles, and this conditions the way we experience each other (134).
Based on my own experiences and observations of student culture, the gap or usual lack of understanding between students and the professors they encounter arises from two probable key reasons. On one hand, you have the general apathy typical of most modern-day students, who are well aware that learning is not isolated to the classroom. In some instances, students may sometimes be grappling with some personal turmoil or family problem, to some extent distracting them from fulfilling all academic expectations. The latter case, however, represents only a small minority. The more prevalent reason why students show nonchalance towards the requirements of their professors, based on my own observations, is that they have grown accustomed to lackluster teaching methods that have been practiced long ago. Students oftentimes take for granted the utmost benefit they may derive from devoting full concentration towards a course, failing to see how all the bits of information and concepts presented their professors can relate to their lives both in the present and in the future, once they graduate from university and land jobs.
Compounding the situation is the common tendency of most teachers to just go through the motions and get the lectures done. These breed of mentors seem to be more intent on adhering to the set curriculum, rather than taking the time to see exactly how their students are faring or reacting to their teaching strategies. The second major factor then are the professors’ approach or manner of providing guidance, instruction, and inspiration.
There are, of course, professors who do take the initiative to seek students out and offer help to expanding their learning potential. Again, based on my observation, cases like this are the exception rather than the norm.
From the hindsight of Rebekah Nathan, who had ventured into teaching for more than a decade, students can be quite perplexing in that even if a professor like her goes out of her way to offer stopgap measures to aid students when it becomes apparent that classroom instruction does not suffice, the mentor is met by a cold indifference. Her musings about this are all expressed in her book, as follows:
I found that students had become increasingly confusing to me. Why don’t undergraduates ever drop by for my office hours unless they are in dire trouble in a course? Why don’t they respond to my (generous) invitations to do out-of-class research under my guidance? How could some of my students never take a note during my big lecture class? (Nathan 2).
If we are to recall our experiences as students, we will be able to surmise that the answer to Nathan’s lamentation about students who are oblivious to honing their knowledge with the end in view of sharpening their academic skills reverts back to the teachers themselves. Granted that modern universities now have a sprinkling of topnotch instructors who can really inspire and impart practical learning concept to their students, majority of professors still do not offer effective student learning outcomes, creating frustration instead of eagerness to learn. Moreover, some do not even bother to explain or establish how the information they foist on learners fits into the purpose of the course. On their part, most students settle for whatever is handed to them and usually do not voice their concerns and attitudes about academic matters or methods. Hence, a vicious circle develops and on the losing end are the students.
Nathan contended in her book that “university administrators are changing the nature of course delivery, pedagogy, scheduling, and degree offerings to address students’ tastes and desires and thereby draw more applicants” (Nathan 3). From the outset, little progress seems to have been made as far as changing the nature of course delivery is concerned, because the misperception and intolerance that Nathan spoke of in her book appears to have grown more acute, like a systemic disorder. This being the case, traditional universities or learning institutions will have to overhaul teaching methods and contend with other extraneous factor like growing class sizes, which in turn affect consistent and effective teacher/student interaction. Professors, on the other hand, will have to learn to start seeing things from the student’s viewpoint, as what Rebekah Nathan did when she became privy to the thoughts and attitudes of the studentry be becoming one herself. Among her observations is that student networks exist and “like family relations, are ego based” (Nathan 56). She likewise noted that friendly fun… was the bread and butter of college life” (Nathan 23) and as such, professors will probably be able to reach out to their students by engaging them in a fun, animated manner. The extreme end is to be formal and authoritative, not lax, in teaching style.
In her book, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, Rebekah Nathan noted how living in a different culture can make a person more aware of his or her home culture. As Nathan wrote:
Anyone who has spent much time overseas knows that this experience makes you reconsider your own culture. You become an observer of what was once just lived. On your return form another world, things once unnoticed—our reliance on date books, for instance-seem glaring; what was a daily routine can resurface as an exotic American custom. Since my time overseas, I find myself constantly taking apart the taken-for granted world in which I live (1).
I totally agree with the above statement. Time and again, immigrants to the United States, notably Asian-Americans, have shared their harrowing experiences of fitting in and blending with mainstream American society, while recounting with deep sentimentality their own unique traditions connected with family and social life. For some immigrants, though, America has been viewed as a generous spirit, but its great weakness, many have noted, lies in how it has drifted far from traditional family values that most Asian countries have always striven to uphold.
Indeed, living in a different culture is like stepping outside from the confines of the home environment which has shaped, nurtured or cloistered you, and see it in a new perspective, like an outsider looking in. In the process, you become more aware of the distinct advantages as well as idiosyncracies of your own culture, and you end up developing a keener appreciation for them.
As a cultural anthropologist who had been exposed to life in the village, and stepped into the shoes of a student, thereby seeing the world from the mindset and attitudes of student, Rebekah Nathan proved to herself that there are many things that move or concern students which professors have been oblivious of, barring real understanding and curtailing efforts to harmonize with each other that may be instrumental in fostering more productive academic pursuits.
Nathan, Rebekah. My freshman year: What a professor learned by becoming a
student. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.