"I need to cover this material"

I have occasionally run across a professor who is very worried about how much material he will cover in a semester: "I've got to get through chapter 10."

This is a strange way of looking at it to me. I am more interested and how much material the students understand. Isn't it better to cover two chapters, and have the students understand both of them, then cover 10 chapters, and have the students understand none of them?

The first time I encountered this was the first time I taught macroeconomics. When I signed up to teach the course, I was told that many of my students would be "woefully unprepared", and that I should be ready to deal with this sad fact. And the warning was spot on: a number of them had trouble graphing an equation like y = x. (This is not hyperbole.)

So, I spent time teaching them the math they ought to have learned in the eighth or ninth grade. The same person who had hired me and had given me that warning then came in to review one of my lectures. Afterwards, she was severely distressed by the fact I was "way behind schedule."

The first problem I had with this review was that she had never given me a schedule. But the bigger problem that struck me was how was I supposed to deal with the "woefully unprepared" students without slowing the pace in order to help them?

I think what she actually wanted was for me to plow through the material at a certain standard rate, leaving many students lost and confused, and then simply pass those students anyway.

It is hard to imagine an approach that could make a student more cynical about the value of education than to leave him, at the end of a course, utterly befuddled, but with a B- grade.


  1. You're a God-send, Gene. I had a teacher a few quarters ago just marshall through the material, leaving us to (try to) understand the book material on our own. I was the only person at the final who failed the midterm -- everyone else dropped out.


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