Mutual Expectations of Students and Faculty at Duquesne

In September 2010, the Center for Teaching Excellence invited undergraduate students, graduate student teaching assistants (TAs), and faculty to reflect on the expectations they have for one another.  The purpose for this reflection was to increase student learning through improved faculty-student understanding. 

Together, we focused on three things:

  1.  Observable behaviors (what faculty/TAs/students “do”)
  2. Assumptions we make when we see those behaviors (what faculty/TAs/students “think”)
  3. Actions we take in response (what faculty/TAs/students “do” in response)

Undergraduate students completed these sentences as a group

TAs and faculty completed these sentences in small groups

Effective faculty members do… Successful students do…
Students think… TAs/Faculty think…
Students do…… TAs/Faculty do…
Ineffective faculty members do… Unsuccessful students do…
Students think… TAs/Faculty think…
Students do… TAs/Faculty do…

The groups presented their lists to one another, and discussed patterns across student and instructor responses.  Here are some themes that arose, reported in the language of the participants.

Just Being There Isn’t Enough

Ineffective faculty lack enthusiasm for teaching.  Often teachers are very involved in research and may only be teaching because they MUST.  They rush through the material.  Students assume they don’t care; they are just “there.”  And students might not buy the textbook or do the reading – even if it is required. 

Ineffective students text or use cell phones in class, fall asleep, and are present only physically, not mentally.  Some don’t even show up to class.

Giving Enough Time, Being on Time

Effective faculty and TAs give enough lead time for student projects.  They don’t rush through material.

Successful students come to class on time and are prepared.  They turn in assignments on time and correctly (following the instructions).


Effective faculty and TAs have good communication with students (e.g., post syllabus, email).  They still remember what it was like to be student, understanding the demands of student schedules and how much is expected of undergrads.

Successful students email instructors, especially if they miss a class; they keep instructors informed.  They come to office hours and conference appointments.  They communicate with the teacher—and with one another—about class.

Asking Questions – It Goes Both Ways

Effective faculty and TAs allow students time to think after asking a question.  If the question is worth asking, it is worth waiting for an answer.

Ineffective faculty suggest that students ask questions, but then they aren’t actually open about it. 

Effective faculty and TAs are approachable and don’t treat students like they’re “stupid” when they ask for help.

Successful students initiate contact with instructors and ask for help when they need it.  They contribute to discussion and ask questions.  They show critical thinking skills and are not just passive learners.

Instructor Support For Learning – Student Responsibility For Learning

Effective faculty give building blocks for learning.  In larger classes, this might include PowerPoint presentations (which faculty expand on; they DON’T simply read them) and notes that students receive in advance (notes which require students to engage in the class.)  Effective instructors review or repeat subject matter; they don’t assume students already know things.  They don’t go too quickly, so that students have time to write and comprehend information.

Ineffective instructors test on minutia, not on key ideas.  These minutia don’t seem important within the context of class but appear on the test.  This frustrates students.

Ineffective students make excuses: they blame faculty members, other classes, or anyone else!  They ask for extra credit or want to make something up based on failure to complete previous assignments.  Ineffective students repeatedly ask faculty and TAs for copies of course materials they have lost (EVEN though these are available online or from a peer in the class), and they email questions that have already been addressed in the syllabus and other course materials.  This frustrates faculty.

STUDENT RESPONSES to effective faculty and TA behaviors: they think that faculty and TAs care, that they want you to succeed in learning, and that they have an investment in your success.  Students then feed off the positive energy and put in the extra effort needed to succeed.  They enjoy going to class and engage more with the professor, perhaps one-on-one, as a result of his/her effective methods.

TEACHING ASSISTANT RESPONSES to successful student behaviors: They think that students are engaged, that they care about their education and are invested.  They believe that students are using their time well and have good time management.  As a result, TAs have more patience and are willing to work with students and even give them extra time for their assignments. They provide more positive feedback, and the overall atmosphere is more positive.

FACULTY RESPONSES to successful student behaviors: They think they must facilitate and engage students in the classroom, and they aim for critical thinking as opposed to memorization of content.  They are then able to remember students better and are willing to write recommendations for motivated students.  Successful students make an impression on their instructor.

In sum, effective instructors and students have many behaviors and expectations in common: they are engaged in the classroom, they communicate regularly, they want to be respected, they expect the other to be invested in teaching/learning, they are prepared, and they want to use their time in meaningful ways for deep learning.


  • The idea for this discussion came from the Wakonse Foundation Conference on College Teaching and from Nancy Simpson, Texas A&M.
  • Appleby, D. C.  (1990).  “Faculty and student perceptions of irritating behaviors in the college classroom.”  Journal of Staff, Program, & Organizational Development, 8 (1), 41-46.
  • Meyers, S. A., Bender, J., Hill, E. K., and Thomas, S. Y.  (2006).  “How do faculty experience and respond to classroom conflict?”  International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 18 (3), 180-87.
  • Nathan, R.  (2005).  My freshman year: What a professor learned by becoming a student.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Sorcinelli, M. D.  (1994).  “Dealing with troublesome behaviors in the classroom.”  In K.W. Prichard & R. M. Sawyer (Eds.), Handbook of college teaching: Theory and applications (pp. 365-373).  Westport, CT: Greenwood.