Avoiding Complacency

As the semester draws to a close, there seems to be a communal feeling of exhaustion that unites all levels of the university system. Everyone seems to be united in counting down the days to summer break while simultaneously listing off every task that must be accomplished before the semester can officially be over. I can completely relate as I found myself on the verge of dozing off while standing in line at the grocery store this afternoon. With all of the end of semester busyness, meaningful reflection and critical thinking seems to get pushed to the side in the name of productivity.

So, when I read the New Yorker Article, Personal Best, this week, it resonated with me. Here was someone seemingly at the top of his game, who was still seeking to improve his skill set. He did that by allowing himself to be vulnerable and open to constructive criticism and showing the gumption to make the changes suggested. He didn’t settle even when he could have without the questioning of others. The veteran middle school teacher in his article didn’t settle either.

As this semester draws to a close so does my first semester as a teaching assistant. While I wasn’t responsible for a whole course, I lead two lab sessions throughout the semester and got a small taste for what it is like to teach. After seeing the amount of work that goes into preparing for just the lab section of a course week-to-week, I can see the temptation for making minimal changes year-to-year. However, if there is anything that I have taken away from this semester, it is that true learning doesn’t take place in the classrooms of complacent professors. For effective learning to take place, everyone has to be engaged, and change is inevitable and inseparable from learning.

Watching people who are further along in their careers, it is fairly evident to me that the busyness doesn’t fade away; it often expands. With that being the case, being an effective educator must be a continual practice to make engagement and self improvement a priority much like the surgeon demonstrated in the article. It is a choice not to settle for what seems to be working but to strive for what could be truly exceptional.



9 thoughts on “Avoiding Complacency”

  1. Thanks Whitney for sharing your ideas with us. I absolutely agree with you on the fact that the progress would occur in classrooms that the teacher try to go outside of the box.
    Also, the concept of having a “coach” for constructive feedback was truly an intersecting subject for me, which the writer of the New Yorker article nicely elaborated on that.

    Thanks again,

  2. Hi! Thanks for this post! I also enjoyed that article and especially appreciated that this surgeon did not settle for even above average. He wanted to continue improving, even when it was not asked or expected of him. To me, that is a prime example of someone who is really a “good student.” We should never be complacent. That said, it is important to not just recognize our “weaknesses” (no matter how big or small they may be) but to also recognize our strengths (even though our strengths likely can be improved upon as well)!

  3. Definitely agree with you. I can’t count how many times I’ve been like “if I just get to this _______, then I can relax for a bit” before realizing things never really do slow down too much. That can be stressful. And can definitely make you want to just skip the whole improving thing, which leads to complacency. I’ve found I’m better at avoiding that when I try to make small and steady improvements instead of just focusing on making huge ones all at once. That doesn’t always work, but when it does, I find I end up actually improving a lot more because I actually make the changes I planned.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree with all you’ve said. Reminds me of a quote I read once that said that we should strive to be a better version of ourselves compared to no one else but our own selves from yesterday. It made so much sense to me…to strive to be a better me because there is always space to improve.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I can completely relate to the feeling of counting down days while still making my to-do lists until the end of the semester. We can’t allow ourselves to get complacent especially when it comes to the education of the students we are serving. I appreciate your comments around needing to stay engaged because I do believe this is a key part in the success of our students as well as the professors who teach them.

  6. Great thoughts. I particularly liked this thought: “true learning doesn’t take place in the classrooms of complacent professors.” I definitely agree. And though it is a little daunting to think of the work that must go into avoiding complacency and constantly updating my teaching techniques, I think that it really will make a difference.

  7. As with several others here, I completely relate to this feeling. It seems every semester I run into this issue to some degree. And I know my students bear the brunt of it, especially when it comes to my grading. It most definitely takes effort to combat the natural urge to “just get through it” or the “survive” rather than “thrive” mentality. I was thinking that as future professors, we might begin to think about the strategies we can put in place at the beginning of semesters to minimize the impact or urge of complacency at the end. For me, that might me decreasing the workload of my students, therefore, myself when it comes to grading- making assignments more meaningful, but fewer overall. What might that mean to the rest of you?

  8. Perfect points Whitney! I don’t want to ever become this type of professor, but much like you said, it is so easy to do the work once and minimally change it from semester to semester. I’m guilty of this behavior as a student as well! I often re-use information in powerpoints and abstracts and papers. I think a better solution may be to allow ourselves to use the same info, but do a better job of improving and updating for each semester. No sense in completely reinventing the wheel every time, but also, no sense in complacency. Great job!

  9. Good afternoon Whitney,

    I kind of just giggled reading to myself! I literally got up this morning at 4AM to write a 12 page paper and prepare a presentation for said paper. I got a 94% on the presentation and we’ll see about the grade for the paper! LOL! Thanks for always bringing the real story to the table and opening up avenues for discussion!


    Cheers, Lehi

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