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Bang Head Here: First Year Instructors Dealing With Student Failure

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade II

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.247.1 - 13.247.12



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Paper Authors

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Adam Chalmers United States Military Academy

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Eric Crispino United States Military Academy

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Joseph Hanus United States Military Academy

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Bang Head Here: First Year Instructors Dealing with Student Failure


As first-year Instructors in the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point, we are highly motivated, extremely dedicated, and well- trained teachers. Fresh from graduate school and the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Department’s famous 6-week Instructor Summer Workshop, we were excited as our first semester started. We were eager to get into the classroom and lead our gifted students to academic victory. Our students, cadets who competed rigorously to come to our institution, are some of the brightest college students in the country. They have chosen engineering as their major and future profession.

However, once the semester was underway we found that despite our training, motivation and effort, we still had students fail and perform poorly on exams. Why do dedicated, disciplined, and driven students who want to be engineers fail? Is our instruction not meeting these particular students’ learning needs? Are the lessons built with proper attention to building student learning through the cognitive domain? Is it a lack of motivation caused by outside influences? Is it a result of another academic failure or tragedy that creates a cycle of poor performance? Are their study habits poor? Or, could it be that these students simply do not understand the material? This paper investigates the possible sources of failure of cadets enrolled in two introductory Civil Engineering courses that are taught by new instructors.


The purpose of this paper is to investigate a common source of frustration of many new engineering educators. That source of frustration is student “failure.” As first year instructors, we, naively, believed our students would all get A’s and B’s. Sure, we had learned about struggling students and student failure, but we wouldn’t have those problems because we were a couple of motivated, well-trained and intelligent teachers. We also perceived all cadets to be “high-speed, low-drag, super-duper-paratroopers,” - smart and driven individuals who chose to enroll in an engineering major, therefore possessing the two main characteristics required of a successful student. As the semester progressed, we found that the perceptions of our time as former successful cadets may have skewed our perceptions of our abilities and those of our students. We wanted to determine why the students failed and if there was a common factor that led to their lower performance.


We wrote this paper from the perspective of two first-year instructors seeking to understand student failure. We hope this paper serves as a tool for other new instructors to understand why students may not perform well, so they can adjust their methods to avert potential student failure. To facilitate this academic journey, we defined student failure and then interviewed those students who should have performed better in the class. Through interviews and surveys, we

Chalmers, A., & Crispino, E., & Hanus, J. (2008, June), Bang Head Here: First Year Instructors Dealing With Student Failure Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4304

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