TITLE: The Trust Between Student and Teacher
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: September 04, 2012 4:31 PM
or, "Where's Your Github Repo?"
The last couple of class sessions have taught me a lot about
what my students know and what they are ready to learn about
programming. As a result, I'm adjusting my expectations and
plans for the course. Teachers have to be agile.
A couple of my students are outliers. They have a lot of
programming experience, sometimes with relatively exotic
languages like Clojure. I hope that their time with me this
semester is as useful to them as it is to less experienced
students. Even the more advanced students usually have a
lot to learn about building big systems, and especially about
After an interesting conversation with
one of the more advanced students
today after class, I was reminded of the role that trust
plays in learning. A student has to trust that his or her
professor knows enough of the right stuff to teach the class.
Most students trust their professors implicitly, based on their
academic degrees and their employment at a university. (*)
That makes teaching much easier. If I as a teacher start every
new topic or even every course having to establish my credibility,
or build trust from scratch, progress is slow.
Once the course gets going, every interaction between professor
or student either reinforces that implicit trust or diminishes
it. That's one of the most important features of every class
day, and one we professors don't always think about explicitly
as we prepare.
Working with more advanced students can be a challenge,
especially in a course aimed at less experienced students.
Much of what we talk about in class is at a more basic level
than the one on which the advanced students are already working.
"Why listen to a prof talk about the design of a method when
I've already written thousands of lines of code in a complex
That's a fair question. It must be tough for some students at
that level to accord the same level of implicit trust to the
professor as a beginner. This wasn't a problem for me when I
was among the more advanced students in the class. I found it
easy to trust my professors' expertise. That's how I was
raised. But not all students have that initial disposition.
I've learned over the years to empathize more in this regard
with the experienced students in my classes and to make efforts
to earn and maintain their trust. Without that, I have little
chance of helping them to learn anything in my course.
Of course, we also live increasingly in a world in which the
tools of our trade give us a vehicle for establishing trust.
I love it when students or prospective students ask me, "What
are you working on in your spare time?" I'm waiting for the
day when our upper-division students routinely ask their profs,
"Where's your Github repo?"
(*) The department head in me is acutely aware that that the
department also puts its credibility on the line every
time a professor walks in the classroom. That is a big
challenge even for departments with strong faculties.