When Your Student Does Not Recognize You as the Instructor

This last eventful spring semester, I co-taught, with my doctoral adviser Professor Sanchez, an online class of 56 students as the lead instructor. I enjoyed teaching, and I worked hard too. I wanted to give my students the best learning experience I could.

I was the teaching assistant for the same course in spring 2019 when it was first offered and had helped develop it too.  I knew the subject very well. Taking more responsibilities as the lead instructor was truly exciting as I honing my teaching style while a student myself. The course itself deals with a topic that fascinates me: the future of cities. One of the course deliverables was posting Twitter comments on the weekly readings that ranged from Alvin Toffler’s classic Future Shock to Carl Abbott’s Imagining Urban Futures. I truly enjoyed developing prompts for the Twitter assignments and reading students’ replies. I appreciated the diversity of their perspectives and how their outlook was reflected in their responses.

As it was an online class, I never had the chance to meet my students in-person except the few that are based on the same campus. At the beginning of the semester, we organized a five-minute meet and greet session conducted via Zoom to create a semblance of an in-person class. I had a brief introduction with most of them. As most of the students later recounted in a survey, the event ended up being an opportunity to put names to faces. It served the same purpose for us instructors too.  Thanks to the weekly Twitter assignments and weekly reflections posts on our online course management, Canvas, I felt like I knew my students. This was later solidified where we had Zoom group discussions, attended by instructors.

I had positive interactions with them and most of them conducted themselves professionally and respectfully. I made sure I was communicating with them in the same manner I expect them to communicate with me. There were the occasional informal or casual emails, with one that was incredibly so it made me pause. I reminded students the expectation for a professional communication between students and instructors. For the most part, they responded positively.

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One encounter at the end of the semester was remarkable that it prompted this post. I was grading half of the students’ final project. It was a narrated presentation, and I so enjoyed listening to the students’ voice as I learn which concepts discussed throughout the course stood out to them. One of the students, in fact, the one with the most informal email I reference above, stated the name of the instructor, not instructors, at the beginning of his presentation. I was not mentioned. I found that very strange. My name was listed as one of the two instructors in the course syllabus and many places on Canvas, including the introduction page where I start the thread by stating that I was one of the instructors of the course. I also recorded various videos narrated in my voice that I uploaded on Canvas. In one of the videos, I mention the two instructors of the class and show our pictures. All the class content, assignments, and most announcements are posted under my name, which is visible to users. My signature in my Virginia Tech email account, through which I interact with students – including several emails exchanges with this particular student, identifies me as “instructor of record”. It was incredible to me that none of these registered in this student’s mind. Yes, I am a doctoral candidate at the university, and the student could have assumed I was the teaching assistant. But I am not sure if that explanation is strong enough given the list of information that clearly stated that I was the instructor. Perhaps it was poor engagement with the material on his side.

Only he would know. Therefore, I decided to send a note. My email started commending him on his exhaustive and comprehensive work. It went on to mention the error and highlighted that I was the instructor as it was stated in various places in course material. I also added the following: “In fact, I am the lead instructor” and ended my email with “Have a nice summer and be well!”. No response. I found his none response, if he received the email, unmannerly.

What does it say when your student does not recognize you as the instructor? This could happen to me in various ways in the future. What I did in this instance was simply correct the error and hope – for the student’s sake – that he learns something about himself. Because this says nothing about me and plenty about him.


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