A reader wrote with a quandry about teaching students who are openly disrespectful. I have modified the e-mail message to remove some possibly-identifying details. Some background: I’m a recent PhD graduate in my late 20s, working as a postdoc in a science field. The postdoc includes teaching one class a year, and I get to initiate and design the class based on my research area, which is really great. I’ve already taught this class once and it went over well. The class at that time didn’t count for the major, so it was small and everyone who was taking the class was genuinely interested in the subject. I built a rapport with the students, and ended up with great evaluations that way exceeded my expectations. My lectures are actually clearer than when I gave them last year — and there were no complaints then — so I don’t think my teaching style should be causing problems.

They also object to how I demand some degree of class participation and cold-call people for answers. Do you have any suggestions on gaining their respect while not being authoritarian (which I anticipate will also cause problems due to my gender)? I am very confident in my knowledge of the material, and fairly confident with leading a classroom, and these reactions are disturbing. This reminded me of some experiences I had in my early years of teaching. I admit that I never dealt with this sort of situation in any active way. I think being relentlessly calm (without losing your sense of humor or passion for the subject you are teaching) is very different from being authoritarian. You can be authoritative without being authoritarian. The only thing that really worked for me was to get significantly older than the students. That is not very satisfying as advice though. Does anyone have any better advice? Have any of you dealt with this type of situation and found a way to silence the snickerers? Does being authoritarian work (assuming you can pull it off effectively)?

Ah, the wonders of the five-paragraph essay. Here is a collection of 10 essay writing prompts that you can use in your classroom, household or for yourself. As a writer who is over six years removed from his last college course, it is strange to think how far removed I am from writing essays. That being said, I enjoyed both outlining and writing essays, crafting thesis statements and coming up with pertinent, interesting conclusions. Perhaps these essay writing prompts can help your students to do the same by focusing on subject areas in which they might have something to write. 1. Some people say that school doesn’t teach people about the real world. Do you agree or disagree? Argue your point and include some examples of “real world classes” that you think might be of more use than calculus. 2. What is the value you place on your current friendships? Do you think that your middle or high school friends will be part of your life forever or that they’ll fade as you get older?

Write an essay about your beliefs on this subject in the context of how important friendship is in general. 3. What is your definition of success? Some people think it has to do with perfection while others are concerned about achieving goals that are worthy in the eyes of society. Explain how you have or have not been successful thus far in life and if you think you will be in the future. 4. Teachers in school have a lot of different teaching styles. Some are more hands on while others want you to memorize as many facts as you can. Describe in an essay the most effective and the least effective teaching styles in your opinion. 5. You may or may not have an idea of what you to do for a living when you enter adulthood. Many adults don’t themselves. Describe in a five-paragraph essay, at least three different potential career paths for yourself and why you think they would be a good use of your time. 6. There has been a lot of talk lately about how advertisements are showing children dressed more like adults and thus putting them in a sexualized context.

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