The College Fear Factor

Golden line: “Being unprepared to meet certain expectations, however, is not the same as being unable to meet them. When students fail to follow, or even violate, rules that are taken for granted, instructors may easily interpret the source of the problem. If a student’s style of participation is different from the norm, for example, an instructor may believe that the student is not as capable as the other students. Similarly, when a student fails to take the initiative to ask questions or seek assistance, an instructor may simply assume that the student is not motivated to learn” (Cox)

Today, I received a newsletter from NCTE, and there was an article titled, The College Fear Factor. It caused me to think about the experiences that I had as an ESL student in the past. Honestly, I thought that the phenomenon examined in the study applied only to ESL students, or just me, and I didn’t think it was a topic to generalize, but as Cox did in her book, it seems worth reading and noticing about the phenomenon.

It is a book published by Harvard University Press written by Rebbecca Cox. The community college students were interviewed and observed over five years. In the book, she says that there is a clear misunderstanding between the professor and the students: the professors expect the students to know what to write when the students have no idea about it before they become accustomed to college style of writing. This phenomenon, then, leads for professors to scan the circumstance as students are incapable to write. As a result, students become afraid that the professor will label them as being ignorant; the professors often equates the students’ unpreparedeness as inability to carry out certain writing tasks. For example, when students fail to follow certain rules of writing style, the instructors simply interpret it as a problem. As she writes, however, being unprepared to meet the professors’ expectations is not the same as being unable to meet them.

I can relate this personally to ESL students in a writing class. Due to the fact that many students are not accustomed to the writing conventions in the U.S., for example, both the professors and the students get into a status of confusion with two different sets of interpretation. While ESL students have no direction to write or what kind of writing the professors want them to write, the professors seem to perceive this as an inability of the students to write. Even more, when a student does not ask for clarity on the direction or aid to help them to write, the instructor can simply assume that the student do not want to learn.

Then, what would the students expect from the teachers? Cox says that the student expect for the professors’ to provide a clear goal for the class or a specific task they are assigned. They want the professors to lay out important facts and clear explanation of what they are doing. In a way, they are rather passive recipients of knowledge other than active agent to create their own content while the professors expect them to be “the owner of their writing”. As Cox determined that “English classrooms may be the site that best illuminates the pedagogical disconnects, because so often the goal is for student to take on authority — at least as authors of their own writing,” it is hard for both sides to understand what the expectation for the class are.

So, then, how can the professors help students? “When instructors recognized the reasons for students’ lackluster performance — whether in class or on assignments — they were much more likely to be able to shape students’ beliefs and behavior,” Cox writes. “In this way, the most promising pedagogical approach accomplished three crucial goals: it (a) demonstrated the instructor’s competence in the field of study; (b) clarified both the instructor’s expectations for student performance and the procedures for accomplishing the work; and (c) persuaded students that they were more than capable of succeeding.”

I know that this can be a greatly touch subject for teachers to discuss about this kind of topic openly. But it had certainly caught my attention as the very fact I had observed many times in the past. Also, as my research topic goes, I want to find good characteristics of great writing teachers. What would a great writing teachers would do in a situation where the expectations from the students and her mismatch? As a person who is still learning to become a teacher in the future, I thought that it might be worthwhile to put this kind of controversial topic on the discussion table too. And I wonder how you guys think about this topic. Do you feel this way too? Or is it something that should not be discussed here?


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