Friday, January 14, 2011

16 Ways I Treat Students (Almost) Like Clients as a University Instructor

Students are a teacher’s clients. They are your customers–customers of the university to which they are paying good money in pursuit of an education and all that it means. So it’s advisable to treat them as you would paying clients. Building on my career as a public relations consultant, trainer, and professional public speaker, this simple premise of treating students like clients lies at the core of my philosophy as a university instructor that I’ve successfully employed and modified since I first started teaching in higher education in 1998.

By equating students with clients, my students’ success is my success. Granted, not everyone will earn an A, nor take full advantage of the subject knowledge, insight, and enthusiasm I have to offer as an instructor, but nonetheless I am rigorously committed to the pursuit of excellence as my standard for teaching, scholarship, and service to the university. I translate this commitment to treat students like clients into the following principles, which I use as a guide in all the classes I teach:

1. I consider myself a role model for personal and professional behavior, as relevant to the subject areas I teach. My goal is to embody and consistently and clearly demonstrate the knowledge and skills students need to succeed.

2. I commit to being available to help my students in the same way I would as if they were paying clients. I publish my phone number and e-mail address in my syllabus; use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter throughout the day, every day; and constantly urge students to seek me out if I can help in any way with their work in my course. This means I’m available seven days a week to help, if needed.

3. I extend the offer to help my students with any matter related to their academic and professional success. For example, I seek out and disseminate relevant internship and job opportunities to interested students in specific classes I teach–while they’re in my class, for the remainder of their undergraduate or graduate academic careers, and even afterwards. 

4. I respond quickly (typically within hours, if not sooner) to student inquiries and requests for feedback on assignments, as well as other matters. 

5. I’m committed to helping students succeed–however they define that “success.” 

6. I want to make students think–to challenge how they view the world and their role in it. I encourage them to expand their horizons regarding the ethical and moral challenges they face in making both intellectual and personal decisions. 

7. While maintaining tough academic standards, I’m sensitive to appearing unreasonable as far as my expectations of students are concerned. I’ll modify assignments and class schedules in response to feedback or suggestions that ring true–without compromising my commitment to intellectual rigor and personal accountability in the classroom. 

8. I’m proactive in offering my assistance to individual students who I perceive need it or would otherwise benefit from it.

9. I follow through on commitments I make to individual students seeking information.

10. I give extensive written feedback on student assignments, and gladly offer additional feedback if students want it. 

11. I grade and return student assignments promptly–at the latest in most cases by the next class meeting. I calculate final grades and submit them to the university registrar as quickly as possible, then notify the students by e-mail that the grades are available. 

12. I carefully consider student questions or concerns about grades I’ve assigned, and respond in writing to them as quickly as possible.

13. I establish office hours and keep them. I’m also readily available to meet with students at other times if their schedules do not permit them to meet with me when I’m officially in my office. I also walk the halls of the building where most of my students have classes to interact informally with them, in the process answering questions and simply getting to know them better outside of the restraints imposed by the classroom. 

14. I inform students who complete my classes that they’re now members of my “alumni association,” which entitles them to future advice and assistance. I relish the opportunity to stay in touch with students who’ve been in my classes to help them in any way I can, and use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, e-mail, and other means to do so. 

15. I relentlessly pursue a program of self-development as a person, professional, and teacher, as I believe that students–like my consulting clients–should derive more from my teaching over time in terms of my skills, insight, and general knowledge of the fields related to major class topics. I read widely in the subject areas in which I teach (above and beyond seeking formal education and/or training), and seek leadership positions in professional organizations relevant to my classroom efforts to expand my knowledge, experience, and contacts that collectively I can call on to better serve my students. 

16. I also assess each classroom experience shortly after it takes place, noting what goes well and what I might change the next time I teach the class. Every syllabus for classes I teach is a work in progress, open to modification based on insight I gain while teaching the class. In short, each class I teach is a living organism that is constantly evolving to reflect my growth and increasing skills in meeting the needs of students.

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