Friday, January 6, 2012

An Ethical Dilemma for Teachers - How Much Extra Help Is Too Much

English: A special education teacher assists o...Image via WikipediaBy Bryan West Ph.D.

The idea that teachers should be available to students needing extra help with assignments or related problems in understanding course material is not new. However, opportunities to actually get that help under the traditional "teacher-tell" model of education were limited.

Some teachers included office hours in the course syllabus, but were sometimes not there. Not all teachers arrived early or stayed a few minutes after class to make themselves available to answer questions or provide additional guidance.

Today we know that understanding the unique needs of students promotes better learning. Contemporary teachers offer multiple ways students in need of assistance can contact them. Many trainers now arrive early and stay late when possible. Internet technology supplements office hours and some teachers even go so far as to provide home telephone numbers to students in need.

Does this pose a potential problem for teachers?

The truth is, as hard as we try to make ourselves readily available, some students have a difficult time asking for help, no matter how easy we make it for them to do so. In this sense, increased availability does not absolve the contemporary teacher of the responsibility to be on the alert for students who do need extra help, but are reluctant to ask for it.

In theory, perceived special treatment is another ethical dilemma some teachers and trainers feel they face when confronted with repeated requests for help from certain students.

One concern is that the majority of the class that manages to get along fine without extra help will resent the time spent with slower learners who need more help. Such resentment can then get in the way of their own efforts if these students feel they are not being treated fairly. In practice, however, the perception of special treatment often exists only in the mind of the worried teacher.

Another concern is the incremental creep that can happen when we provide help to one student over time. The student who asks a question today, and then another tomorrow, and then another - there is nothing obviously wrong with this. But, what happens when each question is part of a larger whole, such as an assignment or project? When does answering their questions reduce the integrity of the assessment process: will we end up judging their competency by our own work?

Students are often more in tune to each other than we think. They know who in a class the truly slower students are that are in genuine need of a significant amount of extra help. So long as a teacher makes himself or herself equally available to everyone, there is rarely a favoritism issue with giving too much help to selected students. On the contrary, the perception that a teacher really cares enough to provide needed help can have a positive impact on the entire class.

But there is another issue to consider. And that is the potential for robbing students of the opportunity to figure things out on their own. Once you open the door, some students will never stop knocking, even if they could find their own way. Giving help to students might be more of an art than a science.

The art is knowing how much help to give while still ensuring the chance for students to solve issues on their own. Too much help can breed an unhealthy dependence. One wonders if employees in the workplace who need someone to be constantly looking over their shoulder might have had teachers in the past all too eager to help them without question.

Dr Bryan A. West is the owner and manager of Fortress Learning, an Australian Registered Training Organisation who consistently generates greater than 90% student satisfaction ratings with their range of online courses. Learn more by visiting

Article Source:
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment