August 13, 2019

Don’t say this to your class—a student shares his experience

By Jackie Amsden, Centre for Educational Excellence

Jonathan Waldie, who recently earned a degree in cognitive science, found that an instructor's well-intentioned words created a barrier to learning.

Recent SFU graduate Jonathan Waldie has a message for instructors: that thing you’re doing in your lecture that you think is helping students learn better, isn’t. In fact, he warns, it may be having the opposite effect.  

The former cognitive science student—who shared his experience at a Teaching Matters seminar on March 4, 2019—recounts how one instructor’s teaching approach, though well-intentioned, undermined his confidence and, ultimately, ability to learn.

“Every time the professor would introduce some new concept, he would start by saying ‘It’s all very easy and logical.’ Well, it might have been logical, but it wasn’t easy—not for me. And every time he said that, it deterred me from asking for help. I was in my second semester at the time and felt like I must be the only one having trouble, and that maybe I shouldn’t even be here at university.”

The irony, notes Waldie, is that he believes the professor really was trying to help.

“Looking back, I can see now that the comment was probably meant to reassure us, but that was not how it came across. Instead, it created self-doubt for me and made learning the course content so much harder.”

A student’s tips for supporting students

So, how can instructors avoid saying or doing things that might undermine the class learning environment, rather than support it? Waldie suggests trying to remember what it felt like to sit in a lecture hall instead of standing at the front of it.

“Try to put yourself in our shoes. Remember that you were once at a point when you didn’t know all of this … And remember that most students are scared to ask questions, even regarding simple things like where to find information on Canvas, because they think faculty will think they are not smart.”

Now preparing to enroll in SFU’s Professional Development Program for student teachers and working in a remedial education clinic, Waldie says that whenever he feels the urge to tell one of his students something is easy, he stops himself and says this instead: “If you put the effort and time in, you can get this.”

Related links


Teaching Practice, Student Experience