Plan → persist → progress

Teaching Mistake: Keep your Biases to Yourself

I’ve recently made a resolution.

Be okay with failing

In keeping with this resolution, I want to share with you a recent failure of mine. Because it’s okay to fail. Because I’ve learned from it.


My Bias

When I teach students in my functional anatomy lab, I don’t like to baby them. I’m lazy, even. They’re adults, they should do it. After all, you learn better when you’re actively involved in the task (Hake, 1998; Sokoloff & Thornton, 1997; Wright et al., 1998).

So I had a few students ask me, “Can you show us where these anatomy terms can be found every day at the beginning of lab?”

I politely explained to them that it’s easier to remember if you have to work for it. My lecturing to them doesn’t keep their brains involved in the process. Plus, they’ve already been lectured to on the material!

This is elementary for me at this point in my life, but there’s a huge problem with that.


The Issue

I’ve always had trouble with the emotional side of things. When I look at the world, I see nerve transmission, entropy, and biomechanics – not feelings.

I’ve even had an ex-girlfriend call me a robot!

“Typical guy.”

Can you see why this is a problem? Would you listen to the jerk who just denied your request?

Say it with me: Not a chance.

It has nothing to do with how right I am! I could have just told this student a simple trick to cure cancer, but I’m still the rude guy who shot down that one girl in front of the class.

“He doesn’t even care.”

I eliminated all empathy from my response. Even if I do care about my students and their success, how are they supposed to know that if I don’t show them? Should I expect them to listen to me because I have a degree? Because I’m their professor?

Say it with me one more time: Not a chance.

Live and learn.


Failure is the Best Teacher

I can tell you I won’t do that again, but what’s a better way to handle this situation?

The first option: appease the masses.

Say, “Yes of course I can do that!” Work hard, spoon feed them the information. They’ll probably still learn more when all is said and done because we’ll be working as a team instead of me vs. them.

The reason I don’t like this course of action is because it compromises my ideals and, as a human, I’m stubborn.

The second option: empathize, give them what they want, then remove the scaffolding.

The idea of scaffolding is great for teaching. Give them the support they need, then gradually remove it as they become more stable with the material. The trick, and this is where I failed, is to recognize that this doesn’t just mean you need to learn vocabulary before you can learn a concept. In the beginning, they need all of that support. Without it, they lack confidence in their own exploration. Even if they discover something meaningful, they will assume they’re wrong.

So from now on, I’m going to set my bias aside and stop making assumptions.


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1 Comment

  1. John Ranalletta

    “I eliminated all empathy from my response.” Lance, I have a personal perspective on your post as you occasionally coached my workouts at IFAST. I’d offer that “eliminated” is not the correct word because empathy would have had to be present to have been eliminated. Empathy is not universal. Not everyone has it because not everyone needs it. Not everyone really cares about how others FEEL about them. Empathy is the ability to assess others’ FEELINGS without asking them how they feel. What you’re learning is not to be more empathetic; rather, you’re learning that, absent empathy, you need more DATA about how others feel before and while communicating with them. Good lesson. Now, do 20 reps.

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