Professor Asks a Stuttering Student [ed.] to Pose Qs Before or After Class

12 October 2011: New York Times Front Page (Below the fold)

Harsh wasn’t the first description that came to mind. Depending on your world view, adjectives describing Professor Snyder’s actions would range from boorish / insensitive to paternalistic / altruistic. Factor in your own classroom experiences dealing with (or being) one of those students who attempt to exhibit how smart they (think they) are by posing inane ‘gotcha’ questions or interrupting lessons; add a speech impediment that could translate into a several minute long query; and maybe, just maybe, this kid’s teacher and classmates deserve the same level of “sympathy” he himself expects.

Was there a question here?

And you’d think professors would be happy when their students come up with something to say mid-lecture. You know, because they’re listening?

Although writing them down is helpful for a stutterer.

Moving to GD, where the OP intended to put it.

General Questions Moderator

not fair to the other students that their time be wasted

Seems like the teacher did the right thing. She communicated to him in a private email, instead of calling him out in class and offered two different solutions so that he could still ask questions without eating up the rest of the classes time.

Assuming the article isn’t exaggerating, and the student really took several minutes to get a single question out, and the class is 75 minutes, then two or three questions a lecture would be eating up a pretty non-trivial chuck of the total class time.

What’s a co-ed?

I’m thinking it must have taken him a really long time (and was sufficiently awkward) for the prof to ask him to wait until after class. She could have been more polite about it, but I don’t really see the problem. I think the same should be said to chronic timewasters, and others who monopolize class time with question after question.

Also, I thought “co-ed” referred to female students? Am I wrong on that?

A female college student. It dates back to the time when colleges were starting to go co-educational; ie, colleges that had been men-only were letting women in for the first time. The female students were nicknamed co-eds.

Thanks, I thought so. But the title, together with the story about the male student, puzzled me.

One of the key aspects of a question and answer period in a college class is the way that one student’s question and the answer given to it leads to another student asking another question, and so on and so on. It’s an interactive process. To say that a student cannot participate in that process because of their disability not only unfairly penalizes that student for something that they haven’t the ability to control over, it robs the class of hearing that student’s input and using it as a jumping off point for their own learning.

This is an accessibility issue, this is a human rights issue, and this professor needs to be ass-first on the pavement out of a job.

We had a student in one of my undergraduate classes that had a severe stuttering problem. We had another student in that same class who was afflicted by a some malady that left her partially paralyzed and made speaking for her somewhat difficult as well. This was an upper level course with a great deal of discussion and we managed just fine. Unless this student’s questions were disruptive for other reasons, the teacher is being a douche.


Some students ask relevant, incisive questions that lead to clarification of an important point, or that lead to productive discussion of a particular issue. Some students ask questions that, while they might be interesting, are really somewhat irrelevant or, at best, tangential to the main issue being discussed.

I love it when students show engagement and interest in my classes. I try to devote about half of our overall class time to discussion, usually focused on assigned reading but sometimes also dealing with more general issues raised in lectures.

But i also have to get through a lot of material in a semester, and questions that take a lot of time really can put me and the whole class behind. If such questions are directly on point, and i think that they will be of interest and relevance to the students, then i’m often willing to devote some time to them. But if they’re not, then i’ll often say something like, “Well, that’s an interesting question, and i’d be happy to discuss it with you during office hours, but right now we really need to focus on the main topic of this class.”

As for the particular case mentioned in the OP, it’s a tough situation. On the one hand, it sucks that the kid is discouraged from participating because of a disability that he can’t control; on the other, the teacher has a responsibility to teach the whole class, and if one student takes up a disproportionate amount of time, then the teacher needs to find a way to deal with this. This teacher apparently spoke to him outside of class about the issue, which was the sensitive thing to do, although in her shoes i think i would maybe have started by asking him to speak a bit less often, rather than asking him to stop altogether.

Most teachers adopt strategies for dealing with any student who monopolizes class time, no matter what the cause. I had a student last semester who was very smart and engaged, and who made some great class contributions, but who also tended to go on for five or six minutes when she could have made her point quite well in one or two. I would occasionally cut her off (politely, of course) in the interests of time, and in a private meeting i told that i appreciated her contributions but that i would also appreciate it if she could be a bit more concise with the responses. She was fine with it.

Too late to edit:

And none of the above even takes into account the students who consistently ask basic questions about stuff we’ve already covered, questions that they would know the answer to if they had bothered to pay attention, or if they hadn’t missed class, or if they had done the reading. I’m happy to answer questions in order to help students come to a better understanding of the material, but i’m not going to subject the rest of the class to hearing the same thing over again just because one or two students couldn’t be bothered doing it right the first time.

My strategy for those students is usually to give gentle hints the first time. So, if a student asks a question that as been covered in a previous lesson, or in the reading that was supposed to be done for the class, i will say something like, “Can anyone else in the class answer that question?” Of course, a bunch of hands go up, and if the student has a clue, he or she will soon realize that this is something we’ve already done.

If doing that a couple of times doesn’t work, i have no compunction about asking something like, “Did you do the reading for today?” and when the student says no, i’ll say “Well, that’s where you’ll find the answer to your question.”

If the two students in the paragraph below are making an accurate claim, then I have no sympathy for the teacher.

The professor should be reported for conduct unbecoming a professional. You just don’t do that.

If it were really, really, really disruptive–like 10 or 15% of class time eaten up by 2 or 3 questions–the appropriate thing to do would be to work with the student to find a solution, not just giving them a gag order. The student has been living with this disability for life and probably knows half a dozen ways to make adjustments. After class, the instructor could have said “I’ve noticed you have trouble articulating your questions on the fly. I really appreciate your contributions and want them to continue, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions about how we might make things more efficient? I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to talk.”

While I stand by my statement that the professor was acting like a douche, I think calls for her head are a bit premature. This may be a good instructor who simply made a bad decision on how to deal with a difficult situation.

Isn’t that what asking the student to e-mail their questions before or after class was?

No, that’s telling the kid that there is only one possible solution, and it’s a pretty exclusionary one. Maybe the kid would prefer to write questions down for the instructor to read aloud. Maybe the kid won’t have problems articulating questions if the instructor doesn’t mind if they lag 5-10 minutes behind the actual lecture, because he needs time to think things out. Maybe the kid will volunteer to limit himself to 2 questions a class. Maybe the kid will have half a dozen ideas I am not even thinking of because he’s lived with this disability all his life. Hell, maybe the kid will volunteer to ask questions only before or after class. The point is that the kid is the expert here, and there’s no reason to believe he isn’t willing to work with the instructor to find a solution that works for everyone.