Students come to courses with certain baseline expectations of faculty. Chief among these according to Blue Ridge Community College are:
- Providing opportunities to learn
- Acting with professionalism
- Grading fairly and returning work promptly
- Being accessible to students
- Communicating in a timely and professional manner
At the community college level, we must also be respectful of students’ time, resources and life outside of the college. This balancing act is a challenge for many instructors who struggle to cover material and meet course competencies while keeping workload and time commitment manageable for students. This is a lot to juggle!
Student expectations are expanding in ways that go beyond traditional teaching, advising and college staff roles. Faculty are expected to be classroom referees, counselors and hand-holders. Advisors are expected to solve problems that reside outside the college environment.
Students may expect special treatment around due dates, grading, attendance, etc. What was once termed “timely communication” may now mean an immediate response regarding grading, emails and phone conversations. Students may make appointments to meet outside of office hours and then not show up. These annoyances may be par for the course, but they can absorb instructor time, erode enthusiasm and create a student culture that distracts from teaching.
While we forced to navigate complex issues when they arise, part of the solution may be in prevention. This starts on day one of the course with a carefully written syllabus and an explanation of what students can expect of the instructor.
The syllabus should include information about:
- Course policies reading class work, attendance and late submissions
- The instructor’s expectations of students
- What the student can expect of the faculty, such as fairness in grading, office hours, communication preferences
When situations arise, it is much easier to go back to the syllabus and remind students of the rules of the class and the role of faculty and students. To be most effective:
- Be consistent in enforcement of rules
- Include class policies in the explain policies to students if they are uncertain what you intend
- Grade blindly
- Include communication preferences and guidelines in the syllabus and your general response time
- Communicate clearly and keep copies of emails
- Never react in anger and frustration
Sandy Chapman at Colorado State University recognizes that each semester there is often a student who crosses the invisible boundary in ways that can hinder learning, monopolize faculty time and energy, and create drama. Look at her helpful advice for staying on point and sane. Strategies for Setting Student/Instructor Boundaries
Learn more about Email Boundaries and expectations from Nate Kreuter.
The article Connecting with Students While Maintaining Ethical Boundaries unpacks “professionalism” in a world of social media, power dynamics and much more.
The article Faculty Focus, Students Place a Premium on Faculty Who Show They Care, discusses the value of limits and carefully set boundaries.
Resources at the T & L site for:
- Challenging & disruptive students
- Uncivil behavior in the classroom
- Mental health issues in college students