Understanding Student Fears

Thursday, May 3, 2018Amber Narro

Amber J. Narro, Ph.D.

Associate Professor & Undergraduate Coordinator

Dept. of Languages and Communication

Coordinator for Online Learning


I was never afraid of feedback from professors or colleagues. I gave my best effort and took criticism as a challenge to improve my work. In journalism, we first learn that everyone needs an editor, and everything we write can always be better. Therefore, at some point, we just have to let it go.

When I built the Real-World Ready course for Feature Writing, I learned my students need much more preparation to develop the courage to send their work to professional editors for criticism ... or possible rejection. My expectations were high – all students would submit their stories to professionals for possible publication. But many students flat refused. Even students who had fantastic stories with really good grades were terrified of submitting them at the next level. At first, I thought it was stubborn behavior, but it was real fear.

Students asked questions like, "How many points will I lose if I don't submit it to editors?"

Prior to teaching this course, I would shepherd the process, sending good stories to editors and "surprising" students with the publication. I didn't realize how much I was crippling my students from that real world experience of sending a pitch letter and asking for the space. Even though we wrote the pitch letters in class, I gave feedback and the students worked together to improve those letters and the stories themselves, sending them outside of the university setting was just not an option for several students in this Real-World Ready course. The fact that quite a few good stories will never see the light of publication is somewhat heartbreaking.

So what did I learn? After reflection, I understand the need to bring professionals to the classroom setting first. Because this is an online class, I will be meeting with a few professionals and videoing them as they explain the importance of getting published prior to graduation. I will also ask those professionals to share their own early experiences. My plan is to make editors and publishers more approachable for students. I will spend more time in the beginning of the class explaining the process and expectations. I'm also going to attach more points to the assignment in order to encourage them to submit.

At the beginning of this course, I expected that students would be excited to submit their stories. I learned throughout the course that there is a real anxiety associated with this real world. That calls for change in my approach.