Addressing the smarty in the classroom

Some times we have a person in class that wants to demonstrate that they have all the answers. I had experienced it and I would like to share my insights from it. First, it is important to recognize that every situation is different and that context matters a lot. Also, is important to understand that things that may work for me may not work for other instructors. However, I believe that my experience can help someone else that goes through a similar situation.

In Venezuela and Colombia, you can be a tenure faculty member having only a masters degree and some industry experience, in those countries it is not that common that people go after graduate school, specially at a master level. After receiving my master degree in industrial engineering I was presented with the opportunity to teach a graduate class in consumer behavior in the University of Santander in Colombia. I felt it was a great opportunity and I spent a lot of time preparing my first graduate course.

The week before classes started I had a meeting with the Department Head, he wanted to discuss with me a problem with course. For the class there was a student registered that they considered to be problematic. The student was a retired CEO from a very famous company that decided to go back to school just to have fun and to do somethingĀ in his boring days. He has had issues with most of the professors in the master program because he felt like they weren’t prepared, they were too inexperienced, or simply because he felt he knew better. At that point the department head was warning me about it because he was sure that the student will have an issue with me (younger faculty member in the entire University, teaching a graduate class being only 26 years old).

I was really scared about that specially because they warned me about the student but no one gave me any advice on how to deal with the situation. Thankfully my mom (who has been in pedagogy for her entire life) gave me a very valuable advice. She told me you don’t need to confront him, you don’t need to exclude him, you need to work with him, recognize that he is there, and include his experience as much as possible.

I did it since day one. I was able to arrive early and I recognized him right away, we had some time before the class started so I engage in informal conversation with the 3 students there, asking about their background. He told me he was retired and work for 40 years in that company and I let him know that his experiences will help us a lot to contextualize the class and provide with real world examples.

The first class was not an easy one, he asked really difficult questions, but somehow I was able to follow my mother advice. I didn’t confront him I demonstrated that his points of view were really interesting (and they really were) and some times when I used an example or explained a basic concept I asked the audience if they thought that is how happens in real life, most of the time he was answering those questions. At some point during the semester he felt not only involved but really motivated to participate and go further. To the point that he took us to his old company for an industrial tour and we were able to see some of the topics discussed in the class in real time.

That student not only became a great team player in that courseĀ but also a good professional acquaintance. We still after almost ten years of that class keep communication and are always discussing interesting things happening in the consumer behavior world.

Sometimes, the smarty student just need a little recognition and instead of closing them the doors I believe we need to open them as much as possible.

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3 Responses to Addressing the smarty in the classroom

  1. scooke says:

    I really appreciate you writing about this. Sometimes I think it is difficult even as a student to deal with the “smarty” in the class. I know that there have been times that I sit in a class and wonder why a certain student is inserting himself into a lecture so often. Having a professor take those comments and add them to the class materials is not only beneficial for the “smarty” but also for the other students involved. It sounds like your mother gave you some great advice that really helped you in that class.

  2. alishafarris says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience. I think the easy response (and gut-reaction) is to feel defensive and angry in the sort of situation you are mentioning here. It is much harder to squash your own pride and engage this type of student in the learning process. I need and appreciate reminders to not go on the defense. I guess if the student had not been receptive to your approach and you felt the constant questions were harming the class, you could have used Dr. Fowler’s approach example she gave in class last week? Thankfully your student was receptive and it sounds like it greatly benefited everyone. Great share.

  3. Miko says:

    I enjoyed very much your post, Homero.
    It has definitely given me a lot of insight for the day I have a smarty in my classroom.
    And I am very glad the experienced was pretty positive at the end!

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