Friday, October 5, 2007

The Student as Customer

Oh, I am loathe to continue this discussion and so this will be brief. Lately, I have had reason to be concerned over the idea of student as customer as many universities are applying business models to academia and turning the student into that most impossible of entities: the customer who's always right.

I have graded approximately 50,000 essays over the past five years, and I assure you, the customer is defiantly not always right. (That was a little treat for English teachers out there ... I'm sure you'll get it, while the rest of you might think that something in that sentence sounds funny).

Encouraging students to think this way would yield very positive results if 1) the students were highly motivated people, and 2) they knew exactly what they were coming into the classroom for. I'd say one in every ten students is highly motivated and knows what they need from the class they are taking.

I know I'm no math teacher, but I can figure that sum. That leaves nine students who are very busy sending me demanding e-mails, not showing up for class, or deciding to drop my class because "they're struggling" and "it's too hard." And I worry over these things, but not because they are my customers. Instead, I worry over them because I am a teacher and I am invested in these people. (Did you notice that transactional language there? I "invest" in them? Interesting.)

When they walk into my classroom, I am committed to making them as strong and as confident of a writer as I can. But this has absolutely nothing to do with a service I am providing to a customer. It has everything to do with my desire to make the world a more intellectually curious and interesting place. It has to do with me not wanting to see mispelled signs or menus or billboards. And it has a little something to do with the teaching moment, that hallowed thing, when I am sitting with a student and we share a moment of mutual discovery that makes every paper I grade worth the misery. I tell you what - you cannot put a pricetag on that moment. And if you could, I assure you, it would cost a lot more than what they are currently paying.


Anna Redsand said...

Yeah. What you said. One of the things that has made me decide that, except for those discovery moments, I am about done with teaching in the conventional sense.

Nik said...

Oy. Customer Service Training. If we applied traditional customer service, we'd put our students on hold and learn how to say "ma'am, that is not our problem. You still have to pay your bill." Maybe the students could take customer training first, learning that nowhere is the customer always right. Instead, you, the customer, pay the man for the product and the extended warranty and you get a shoddy product and when it breaks, you take it back to the man who says I'm sorry, the extended warranty does not cover that breakage.
I'd love to teach like that. No researched student outcomes. No evaluations. Just a cash register at my desk and for every bon mot of wisdom or bit of advice or constructive criticism, I could charge them a reasonable fee. I'm thinking $500 a word.
Because, as you can see from the length of this comment, that my words are in short supply.