Matthew Aiello-Lammens Ecologist at Work

Setting the bar and expectations of my students

I like to think that I have high expectations of my students. Admittedly, being a novice teacher, I’m open to the idea that I’ll find out the truth after a few more years. Regardless, in my mind setting a high bar for what my students should learn and understand, and having high expectations of them, have been synonymous. Over the course of the year, I’ve begun to question this. Here’s an example - at the beginning of this semester I set out to teach my biostatistics course in much the same way that it was taught to me (and that I later helped TA) at grad school. I knew this course was rigorous and that’s what I was aiming for too. But the reality is that all of my students work part-time or full-time AND most are taking a full load of courses. Sure, I was a TA or a RA while a grad student, but there was a lot of flexibility in those jobs. And most of the times the work was at least related to my studies. So it it fair to expect performance of my students that I’m not sure I could have reached? On the other hand, is it fair to cover the material in a less rigorous manner to compensate for the time my students can give the class? I don’t have any answers to this question as yet, but it something that I’m keeping in mind as I go on. I was having a very hard time forming anything coherent on this topic until I read this very good piece by Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight. I owe a lot to that piece, and perhaps my students will too.