Guiding behavior

Last night I had a dinner with several professors, our conversation focused on education and college students. A friend said: “Students are students, they all the same, the only difference is some study harder and others are lazy.” I said: “But there is one thing that distinguishes today’s students from students ten or twenty years ago in term of responsibility.”

My friend seemed surprised: “Why responsibility? I answered: “Today many students are not responsible for their behavior. For example, in the past, most students came to class on time, if anyone arrived late, they always apologized and felt embarrassed. Currently , many students came to class late, but they did not seem to care. I have to remind them about arrived on time and pay attention to the lectures. With mobile technology, many students are being distracted by mobile phones and social media, so they do not pay attention to study. Some only put minimum effort just to pass the exam. I am worried, how will they ever succeed when they go to work with these behaviors? My friend asked: “If they do not learn, that is their problem, not yours.”

I explained: “As educators, we cannot let it continues. My views are not about teaching them to pass exams and get a degree but guide them to be responsible for their education, professionals in their career, and contribute to the society. I often explain that what they do in school could become what they do at work, and in lives. I think the classroom is the place where we educate students and preparing them for their lives in both workplace and society.” My friend laughed: “That is a noble concept, but I think you are doing more than necessary.” I explained: “In the past, students learned from their family and surrounding environment for what they could and could not do. Today, most parents are busy, and the lack of proper behavior in the surrounding environment has led many to become irresponsibility. If the elementary and high school do not teach that, then college is the last place that we can do something.”

In my class, I discuss with students about commitment, humility, honesty, integrity, and compassion. I also discuss professional attitudes that they need when they work. For example, watching youtube, and texting during class means a lack of respect for other students and the professor. Imagine at work, some workers open the laptop to watch youtube or send text messages. How does the boss react? My friend laughed: “They know the consequence for doing that.” I asked: “Then why we cannot do that in school? If the company can fire a worker for inappropriate behavior, a teacher could give a bad grade for students for the same behavior too. The problem is many do not do that because they do not think it is their job.” My friend disagreed: “But is it our job?” I answered: “ Why not? We are educators. Our job is educating, not just transfer the knowledge.”

In my class, I often remind students about being humility during class discussion, being responsible for their own work by not copy or cheat. If no one talks to them about ethics and integrity then how can we blame them for their bad behavior? By discussing responsibility in the classroom, what is appropriate and what is not, we can fix some of the problems early than wait until it is too late. As a result, I rarely have to deal with cheating on exams or copying homework. Since we discuss responsibility, some students begin to apologize for being late in class: “I am sorry that I did not arrive to class on time as I am responsible for my own study.” It is rare today for students to do that, but at least some students know their responsibility. Afterward, I told the class that at work, when you often come in late, it is a signal that you do not want to go to work and it would be a reason for not keeping you. When workers lost their job, there are many reasons, but most often come from the observation of managers on specific behavior whether it is acceptable or not. As educators, we should not just focus on teaching, but guiding too. If we can help students develop the needed skills and proper attitudes so they can be professionals in their career and contributors to our society, we are fulfilling our responsibility.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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