My Beautiful Wickedness

Trying new things (teaching post)
January 18, 2009, 1:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My students are facing a lot of challenges. Most of them are first-generation college students and most of them work (a lot) to pay at least some portion of their tuition and beer money, so this economic crunch has really hit them hard. They are stressed about how to pay for school, they are worried about whether they will have a job on graduation, and they are eager to blow off some steam and take this opportunity to just have some fun before the no-fun world of full adult responsibilities encroaches.

For all those reasons, and because I want to reassure them that I’m giving them good value for their money, I decided I’d be much more pro-active this semester. Part of that is a private agreement with myself that I will be contacting students when they start to go off the rails. If someone misses two out of three classes during the week and we haven’t talked about his or her illness, he or she is going to hear from me. (Missed classes is the big red flag of someone who is going to fail the course without some intervention.) If a student doesn’t turn in his homework and slinks out of class, I’m going to ask him why and remind him of my policies about taking late materials — and then I’m going to ask a pointed question about when I’m going to see his work. I’m calling on students this semester, not just waiting for volunteers.

I am going to see if this makes a difference — whether knowing that you’ll be held accountable will make a difference or whether instead, the people who are accountable to themselves and their own aspirations (I’m taking this class because I want to be a history teacher and I therefore need to do x and y) will continue to rise up and those who haven’t gotten clarity about why they are in college will continue to flounder.

What I have seen thus far is that there is a marked gendered difference in reaction. I send identically worded, identically timed e-mails to those who do not attend regularly. The men (small sample) all immediately fired back an “you are right and I’ll get my shit together from here on out” message. The women (again, small sample) — nothing. I’ll keep you posted about whether this trend continues and whether the men follow through on their “I swear I’ll reform” good intentions.


4 Comments so far
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Yes! During grad school, my letter grade in a (very expensive)foundations class was lowered because…I missed a week of classes when my father died. The professor knew, but it was his “policy” and he had to apply it fairly. The attitude in general was, “Sink or swim sweetheart. This is called culling.” I think it’s great that you care about your students.

Comment by patti

There are times when students can take a little longer to grow up. This is not the time right now. It would be ideal if everyone was all “well, that’s what we have to do, so we’re just going to get to that now..” but 18-22 year olds are prone to magical thinking and used to being bailed out by their parents. The idea that they have to meet their obligations under normal circumstances (even if there’s something really interesting on TV) is part of what I wind up having to teach (along with “what’s a verb?” and “Why do I have to cite my sources?” and so many other things you’d think they’d have learned somewhere earlier…)

In a case like the death of a parent, I usually try to get the student to take an incomplete. The brain is way too busy absorbing and grieving and processing to get much out of a class and I’d rather that they take the time that they need to get out of the fog before we move on. Sometimes, though, they are so close to completing the class that they just want to get out and move on. Not every learning experience will be ideal and not every one will teach you what you expected, I guess.

Comment by bridgett

Is this piece right that professors are a dying breed and liberal arts colleges will be extinct in two or three generations? 😦

Comment by Nick Dupree

Overly pessimistic. Fish is somewhat of a showboater — he likes making a splash. The liberal arts have been “in CRISIS” since the 19th c in America and every generation there are wise guys who declare that the last trolley stop is in sight and yet, here we are. Great thoughts have been thunk and a good way to teach them is in small rooms with people of modest compensation and abundant good will.

Comment by bridgett

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