Teaching through fear and humiliation punishes curiosity, discourages students

October 17, 2017

Sarah Bubke

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    Think about your favorite teachers — the ones who genuinely care about their students and make class interesting.

    Do they threaten students by telling them that they will never succeed in the professional world or openly mock their contributions to the in-class discussion? Do they have unrealistic expectations?

    My guess would be that they don’t. The best teachers don’t motivate students through fear and humiliation.

    Professors who teach through intimidation argue that their classroom needs to resemble the workplace in order for their students to succeed.

    If someone fails at their job, they are reprimanded and eventually fired. In this way, they think that they prepare students for high expectations.

    But most students do not have any experience in their fields before they come to college.

    For us, this is the place where we first experience what it is like to do the job that they are interested in. The classroom is a training facility, not the workplace.

    Of course, it is important for professors to have high expectations of their students. Students need motivation, and if teachers genuinely do not care what students learn, there is little incentive to try. When there are high expectations of students, students will work to meet those expectations.

    However, expectations become unreasonable when teachers overwork their students or openly humiliate their efforts in front of other students.

    Students who are told they won’t succeed in their desired career if they fail an important exam perform poorly, while students who are encouraged perform well, according to a 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association.
    As a student, I have experienced this during my academic career. When students are shamed for having an incorrect answer or for asking for help, those students, and others who witnessed the incident, are less likely to speak up in the future.

    If a professor makes a class too stressful, students are also more likely to drop out of the class. This can be a problem if the class is required for their major.

    Students may get so discouraged that they abandon that career path entirely, feeling like they are not cut out for it. Instead of fostering curiosity for the subject, a stressful professor calls it “ignorance” and punishes the student for it.

    When this happens, we lose people that may make mistakes in college but would do excellent after some practice. We lose the creativity and ingenuity these people would have brought to the field. When a student is discouraged from learning, we have lost the point of education.

College is supposed to be the place where students can make mistakes, and where students hone their skills before going out into the world.

    Students pay thousands of dollars to come to college. We expect that we will be trained and molded into who we need to be to start a career. No student pays their tuition to be yelled at and humiliated by professors.

    Student success depends high expectations for their work, but not to the point of intimidation.

    Life after college, the working world itself, provides plenty of opportunities to learn how to deal with negative superiors and stressful environments.

    Professors should keep work at work and school at school.