This is a dangerous article to write.
People are inundated with pro-teacher propaganda. Teaching is repeatedly called a “noble profession.” We’re reminded how teachers are shaping our future. To offer the slightest critique to the profession or even an individual teacher, gets met with harsh attacks.
That makes bringing up a subject like this one a little scary for me.
In this article, I’m not trying to attack teaching. I’m just trying to shine a light on some of the darker areas of the profession. I hope to help the profession grow by pointing out these unpleasant aspects of it.
I don’t disagree that teaching is a valuable and noble career but I also hesitate to accept that all professors spend their time teaching. Standing in front of a classroom doesn’t make you a teacher by my definition.
In a previous article, I wrote about a theory we have that teachers intentionally inflate the “required study time” they tell their students to encourage their students to study at all.
If they told their students, “you shouldn’t need to study more than an hour a week,” then those students would never study. If instead you told them, “you need to study at least an hour a day,” those same students would actually sit down to study once or twice a week (still less than an hour a day.) I don’t agree with this strategy but I had reason to believe it was regularly applied.
A few weeks later I actually got confirmation from a UCLA professor about this theory. With that confirmation came quite a few accusations against the site. Here is an excerpt:
You are correct to believe that I lie to my students to get them to study. You obviously understand why I do that. I’ve experienced the results myself.
Early in my teaching career I had a similar attitude as you. I was a green professor and figured I could relax about pushing my students to study. I wouldn’t encourage my students to study beyond the basics. I limited my encouragement to the students that obviously needed it. A student would come to me complaining about a D. I’d look them in the eyes and ask them how long they studied. It was obvious they didn’t.
After teaching as long as I have, you start to notice how you can change this.
Now I push my students to study at least 5 hours a week. Yes… I know it’s more than required to get a high score in my class but it changes everything in the average student’s behavior.
For one thing, I no longer receive half the complaints about low scores. Everyone knows that their grade is their responsibility. It’s not my business to get you to study. If you can’t study a fifth of the time I tell you to study then you’re the one to blame.
I get the impression students are more satisfied with the grades they get. Students that get a B in an easy class will complain. Students that get a B in a course they think is hard don’t complain.
This response surprised me in its admission. When I first discussed that theory, I had thought it was more of an unconscious behavior. I definitely admire the honesty of this professor. (That’s the fundamental reason I’m going to leave him unnamed.)
I do take issue with the professor’s reasoning, though:
His reason for lying to his students seems completely focused on his own convenience. His reason appears to be:
- Lying to my students decreases the chances they’ll complain.
What he didn’t mention was:
- Does it change their scores on average?
- Does it teach the students more?
- Do the students actually spend more time studying?
I’m sure this professor is a nice guy but there seems to be a complete lack of empathy in his explanation. How does this help or hurt the students?
At no point does he says those D students actually start studying more. He just suggests they’re less likely to whine to him about it.
He’s offering no proof of a better outcome for the student. (That doesn’t prove he’s wrong but it doesn’t give me hope that he’s onto something.)
HOW DARE YOU?!?
This is the part of the conversation that I got a bit of a kick out of:
You said it directly in your post. You know why we tell these kinds of lies but people like you completely ruin their effectiveness. It’s like you’re publishing that our medication is a placebo in an attempt to sell your own product.
When you publish this kind of stuff, you are hurting students ability to study. I understand you think you can push them into a reasonable study routine but it’s not that simple.
First of all, virtually all the information that this blog provides is free. Nothing is sold on this site (at this time) and virtually nothing is promoted beyond the ideas.
To me, this sounds an awful lot like:
“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”
Having to lie to someone to get them to do what you want is pretty pessimistic. Ever think of providing evidence and trying to win them over with logic?
In this case, I suspect it’s a massive case of lost credibility.
When you tell someone they need to study for 5 hours a week in hopes they’ll study for 1 hour a week, you’re not very credible. Students can tell when their teachers are lying. People are good at catching deception. Odds are, they aren’t fooled.
I don’t think it’s this teacher’s fault.
Most students don’t believe their teachers are very credible.
Teachers attempt to correct this by lying (and becoming even less credible.)
This looks like a silly way to solve the problem.
I get that students don’t need to study as long as I encourage them but 15 minutes is not nearly enough. Peak memorization is around 10-20 minutes but minutes 20 to 30 are just as effective as the first 10. And ultimately, it’s not about efficiency. It’s about knowledge. 15 minutes just isn’t enough.
I understand this critique and disagree but it seems like a minor difference in my mind. I agree that the 15MSS time is open for adjustment based on the difficulty of a student’s course load.
Some math to help out:
15 minutes x 7 days a weeks = 1 hour and 45 minutes of studying a week.
Earlier in his email he suggested 1 hour of studying a week was enough:
If you can’t study a fifth of the time I tell you to study then you’re the one to blame.
Of course, the 15 minute study session should be split between multiple courses. In practice, I would expect our disagreement to be 15 minutes to 30 minutes difference per week.
This is because a good chunk of classes won’t require any studying. A good chunk of the classes that require studying are cyclical in nature. Some weeks studying is a necessity. Other weeks it’s not.
If this professor is suggesting that our 15 minute study strategy should be a 20-30 minute study strategy then I understand. This is where my full case for the 15 minute study strategy should be addressed. The short version:
- It’s not how long you study but how focused you are.
- Focus takes effort and energy. (It can wear you out.)
- 15 minutes increases the chances you’ll have enough time to study.
- Habitual focus improves your ability to focus.
- It’s about top notch grades (not perfect ones.)
- Once your focus is getting weaker during your session, you need recovery time.
In fitness, this might be thought of in this way:
Working out with a certain intensity lets you repeat it day after day without getting weaker.
Weight lifters can’t lift insanely high personal bests every day because their body needs time to recover. If they try to, their body will fail.
Instead, they have easier sessions that allow them to work out daily without needing recovery as often. They may go for a personal best but they plan for the recovery time after that.
The 15MSS is about studying while you’re in your peak and then stopping.
The next day you don’t need recovery. In fact, you feel better about studying because the day before you stopped while you were still kicking butt. You weren’t drained. That means you’re more likely to study.
This is a positive loop that can change the way you think about studying (and life.)
So… what do you think about teachers lying to their students to get them to study more? Am I missing the point? Is it horrible or an acceptable evil? Comment below!
Aaron Richardson took his grades from fighting F’s to Easy A’s. In the process, he read over 300 books on personal development. Today he’s founded 2 blogs on studying including Smart Student Secrets. He’s written 3 books on the subject. His work has been featured on some of the biggest news, psychology, and student sites on the internet.
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