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I feel an international student has a grudge against me and has complained about me regarding my teaching methods etc. during lectures and that I read off the slides which I really don’t. The thing is, the subject is highly factual and requires a great deal of coverage before any activity can occur. The student has as well made up some instances where I was not being effective. Other students are fine in class except her. Any advice? I don’t feel angry about it or anything just like it’s that student’s own responsibility to turn up for class and if they don’t it’s their loss for any confusion. Have you ever felt this way?

Since there is no proper system in the department, students do get their way bargaining with other lecturers on due dates for assignment submission whereas I just stick to the dates set just to cover myself from any liability by management. So perhaps the students was feeling like why am I the only strict and proper one? I’m still a young lecturer.

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    What is your academic position/rank? How experienced are you?
    – Buffy
    Oct 18, 2023 at 15:21
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    And more to the point, are you supported by your department in this matter or not?
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 18, 2023 at 15:30
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    Do you have a more senior mentor you could go to for guidance? I think it's going to be difficult with just your own perspective to identify whether there is any problem with the student or whether there is a legitimate complaint. I'm getting a slight sense of defensiveness on your end which is understandable but probably not the most productive way forward. Also, why does it matter that this is an "international student"? Why do you think other students are fine, besides their not complaining? And how exactly has this student complained?
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 18, 2023 at 15:35
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    "and that I read off the slides which I really don’t" Allow me to doubt that. In all my years as a student I have almost never had a teacher teach a class using slides without reading off their slides. Teaching a class using slides instead of a blackboard can be done, but it's harder, and 99% of teachers who use slides in their classes do it wrong. It would be somewhat arrogant to dismiss that student's remarks and claim to be in the 1%.
    – Stef
    Oct 19, 2023 at 10:18
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    "Other students are fine in class except her." How do you know this? Do you simply mean "this is the only student who officially complained" (which is very different from "other students are fine in class except her")? Oct 19, 2023 at 12:51

4 Answers 4

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This answer might only apply if you are a "junior" member of the faculty with relatively little experience in teaching.

I found the following helpful in my early years, though it was a "feature" of department policy for all new faculty, especially when not yet tenured.

Ask the department chair/head to ask an experienced faculty member, preferably one who has taught your course in the past, to sit in on a few of your lectures and to then give you feedback.

I can't guess whether you actually need the feedback, but an observer can be helpful both in allaying any concerns about your performance and (more important, perhaps) improving your lecture style and delivery.

Some departments have done this as a matter of course. It feels a bit risky at first, but I found it to be a positive thing.

You don't have to explain to the visitor that you are worried about possibly improper complaints, but only as a way to get collegial advice from a more experienced member of the faculty.

If your concerns are valid, it will be helpful to have that visitor speak on your behalf if necessary. And, in any case, their feedback to you might be very helpful in your development as a teacher. It took me a long time to get good at teaching. It isn't obvious how to do it well.


Alternatively, you could ask a trusted faculty member yourself to visit, but I think a request from the chair is more advantageous. It is especially valuable if you request it rather than it coming from a reaction to complaints. (And yes, I've had complaints too.)

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    And even more so than allaying OP's concerns, if the complaints aren't valid, having a more experienced faculty member saying "those complaints aren't valid" will be valuable.
    – Teepeemm
    Oct 20, 2023 at 12:36
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The best answer will depend on the culture you are in and how you fit into the social network that is your department. Seeking advice from senior members can be a very good move. At the least, it shows that you are pro-active. Not over-reacting is also important. Not every teaching style fits with every learning style and some students are just not getting as good an experience as others. Unfortunately, there are people who use complaints in order to get what they want and without knowing you and your student, I cannot tell whether this might be the case. You also need to look at the complaint more closely and see whether there is something there that you can use to improve your teaching. People can digest structured facts much better than just a list of facts, and this is just one possibility for what is going on.

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From your original post and follow-up comments, I do get the impression that you may have something to learn and improve from this incident - but maybe not related to your teaching style, but related to how you handle negative feedback.

Quite frankly, negative feedback, even feedback you consider untrue, unjustified, or rooted in anger about grades, is a thing in teaching (on any level) and it will never go away. Our students tend to be young, and not all of them are able to cleanly separate their "professional" disagreement about their grade from their personal impression of the teacher and their methods. It's also quite possible that your perfectly fine teaching methods didn't work for this student (the fact that they got a worse grade than they apparently expected may also suggest that). This doesn't mean you need to change, but it means that the student may be perfectly right to express that they didn't like your course. Your academic leaders will know this as well - in any sane university, nobody gets into trouble if a handful of students in a larger class that seems to be doing ok is unhappy. That is so often the case that it barely registers.

What I would be more concerned as your manager is that it feels like you are overreacting quite a bit - it's not "slander" to complain about a course even if other students liked it, it's not "utterly disrespectful" to disagree with the opinion of the majority of the class. You need to learn how to handle these cases professionally - arguing why you believe that your methods are fine without expressing anger towards the student, without speculating about nefarious motives of the student, and certainly without using loaded terms such as "slander" or "disrespectful" (at the very least without good cause). I would also strongly recommend to stay as far away as you can from any suggestion that the fact that the complaining student is "international" has anything to do with this situation.

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I very much agree with the other answers—you should seek out advice from more senior instructors, and it would probably be good to have an unbiased outside observer come into the class and see if they can offer any advice. Honestly, I think that all instructors should invite outside observers in from time to time, and should sit in on courses taught by others, as well (this semester, I am on a committee which has required me to observe a couple of classes outside of my department, which has been great).

That being said, you are never going to make everyone happy, and I don't think that should even be your goal. I think that the best instructors are typically going to be a little polarizing—a lot of students are going to really click with them, but there are others who are just going to "bounce off".

Teach the class in the manner you believe is most effective (though, again, it would be good to get input from impartial third parties regarding the effectiveness of your instruction). You are always going to have a couple of students who dislike you, or don't appreciate your approach. It isn't worth your time to get worked up about it.

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