Friday, February 06, 2009

The Mood is the Message

My daughter will soon be giving a certain talk at her school. She practiced her talk for us (her parents), and my husband commented "That's a great talk, but you sound angry."

My daughter said: But I thought you were supposed to sound angry when you give a talk.

Science Professor Dad: Why would you think that?

Daughter: Because that's how you sound when you give a talk, Dad.

[They check with me for confirmation or denial.]

FSP: It's true, you do.

In fact, he does, but in the case of giving a talk (e.g. at a conference or to a university audience), he doesn't care. In the case of teaching, however, this angry-sounding-speech thing has been a problem. If you sound angry when you teach, even if you don't feel angry, students will think you are unapproachable and that you don't like them or the material you are teaching. And then they will not like you, especially when filling out evaluation forms at the end of the term.

While teaching this term, my husband is trying very hard not to sound fierce or angry. He is teaching the usual material, but the difference is his tone of voice and his facial expressions. He used to grimace and glare, and now he effects a pleasant demeanor. He says that for the first time in 12+ years of teaching this class, he can sense a different feeling in the classroom. A friendly feeling.

11 comments:

walyc said...

whoa this is so, so sweet! and amazing! The amazing things you learn from your child... I dont have any children yet but am glad to learn about the things you *gain* as a parent... I imagine that that comment from anyone else would not have such an effect on Science Professor Dad...

Tinkering Theorist said...

My advisor has a very stern, loud teaching voice, though he is really quite approachable and means to project this to his students. In my first class with him, I spent weeks confused about a term he was using because I was too afraid to ask him about it! I kept thinking he would explain any minute now . . . but really I was just misunderstanding what he was saying.

Anonymous said...

cute!

quietandsmalladventures said...

wow, children are so intuitive! btw, you have an award waiting :)

Anonymous said...

as an anonymous grad student, I got my first batch of "you sound angry" evaluations for my first quarter TA'ing. I wasn't even aware that I sounded angry. I'm working on "laid back and smiling" this quarter.

John said...

previous quiet...poster - just now, the award link did not work, and least on my Safari browser.

My experience is in line with FSP's - many non-intuitive details of presentation to undergrad (and grad) students matter. Dressing well, being friendly, asking often if they understand, never leaving them wondering about unnecessary details of class and exam logistics, rapid response to emails, all tend to make them feel better educated.

So does giving them better grades and less work, but that issue is not so easy to accommodate.

Too bad students mistake coziness with education, but we have some things to learn about their comfort zone, as well.

dr. dave said...

makes me wonder... has he been reading his teaching evals for the past 12 years? i can't imagine it wouldn't come up!

female Science Professor said...

Evaluations can be cryptic. If a student gives a low mark for a professor's "availability for help", this can be puzzling to a professor who was diligent about office hours and who frequently told the class "Please let me know if you have questions." Unless a student writes "The professor seems angry all the time, so I was reluctant to talk to him", it can be difficult to know what the problem is.

NY SciChick said...

How has this translated beyond a friendlier atmosphere? Does he feel the students are getting more out of the class? From the mouths of babes....

EliRabett said...

Rate Your Professor is good for this sort of thing. Also, using untimed on line surveys digs it out for you.

What I also did was to carry a small recorder to class and then listen to what I had said

Cool Science Videos Blog said...

Sometimes children think better than adults surprisingly on advanced subjects. :))