Regaining the Student Perspective

I spend the vast majority of my classroom time running the show. I’m either lecturing, guiding discussion, or overseeing small group activities. This morning I attended class as a student for the first time in almost ten years, and I found it useful to observe someone else’s teaching approach as well as get a firsthand refresher on the student experience.

All Connecticut businesses are required by state law to provide two hours of sexual harassment training to all supervisors. I oversee one research assistant working part time, and this qualified me as a supervisor. This morning it was my turn to attend the training. Leading the class was Valarie Stanley, the director of Yale’s Office for Equal Opportunity Programs. Overall, she did a fantastic job and I am proud to work for institution that takes this kind of training so seriously.

For the first thirty minutes, Ms. Harper lectured with no slides and just a few notes. She gave an overview of what we’d cover in the class and a short history of sexual harassment law. Any time you’re teaching a required class, it can be a challenge to get students engaged. I might have chosen to have everyone do something active at the beginning, but Ms. Harper’s approach worked well. Each court case she talked about was a short story that was interesting enough to hold my attention.

Ms. Harper then referred everyone to their written copy of Yale’s sexual misconduct policies and proceeded to read most of it aloud. This was a dry somewhat unconventional choice, but these policies are the whole point of the course, so I didn’t mind. Later on she was able to refer to different parts of the policy as they came up.

The juicy part of the class was the sequence of video vignettes that followed. Each showed a case of potential misconduct that Ms. Harper asked us specific questions about. The discussion focused on what was and was not acceptable behavior, and how supervisors should respond. Ms. Harper gave clear answers when she had them and was open when she did not. She also added several real stories from her experience at Yale and how they had been resolved.

Ms. Harper’s time management was excellent. When she realized that she was running a little behind due to lively discussion, she briefly summarized the last two vignettes and got us out the door right on time.