The Waiting Room

This could take a while...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Broken Students

Posted by Seeking Solace |

My quiet Critical Thinking class just about drove me crazy today. I thought for sure they would be talkative today, seeing as we were discussing marriage and family and a couple of students are writing their research papers on legalizing gay marriage.

Nope. You could hear a pin drop.

No matter how much I pushed, nothing seemed to work. I finally looked at them all and said "What is wrong with you people? Do you hate this class? Is thee something wrong with the way I am teaching? Why are you all so afraid to speak up? I am at a loss here."

Finally, one of them spoke up.

Professor Solace, it's not you. It's not this class. It's just we are fed up and beaten down by our English professor." We like you. We hate him. It's very exhausting.

So, I asked them what was going on in their English class. I asked them not to name any names. They began to vent about this professor who yells at them, tells them that they never do anything right and does not explain assignments or answer questions. It just so happens that this class is before mine and about two-thirds of my students are in that class.

I explained to them that sadly, this will not be the last time they will encounter an instructor like this. I told them that they have to figure out how to play this professor's "game". Because, it is a game. And right now, they are losing.

I then asked my how they envisioned my class. I wanted to know what they wanted from me, short of not assigning any work. We discussed showing films, having them discuss topics that interest them and group work. I told them that I would consider changing things for their section. I also encouraged them to suggest activities too. They appeared to be open to all the new ideas.

All in all, I think they felt better about things. I know I did. But, it frustrates me that another instructor can treat an entire group of students so poorly. I know that sometimes students exaggerate, but for a majority of the class to be this afraid makes me wonder if there is some truth in what they are saying.

I don't believe in coddling students, but I don't believe in humiliating them either. I remember in law school going through the Paper Chase method of teaching and it just scared me into learning the material. Learning should challenge the student, not scare the shit out of them.

At the same time, our job is not to entertain them either. Granted, I use a some humor in my teaching, but my students know that I mean business and that I expect nothing but their best work. My classes are not for amusement or for pursing any agenda.

I guess today's class explained some things and led to even more questions. How to find balance with a group that is being weighed down?


Arbitrista said...

Wow. I never would have had the guts to say something like that to a class I was teaching. I'm impressed!

righteous babe said...

After this morning I probably sent some students to their next class in a similar mood. However they had it coming. If you had any of them, I am sorry. But they did fail the last assignment.

I am wondering if some of your kids are LC kids. They have to take certain classes together and sometimes the profs for those classes...well aren't good at handling that particular group. Another possibility is they have this one prof who has terrible reviews (guess what, he has a PhD and is probably tenured)

Glad you approached them like that. Sometimes they need a soft place to land.

Ianqui said...

Wow, that's tough. I'm glad you asked them, though. It seems like it probably helped clear the air.

Seeking Solace said...

Thanks for the props. I have been so frustrated with this class that I think my outburst was more out of frustration. I just couldn't continue for the next nine weeks with them like this.

Righteous Babe: Nope, it wasn't any of your students. I don't know if they are LC or not. Next time we talk in person I will let you know who the guilty party is.

JustMe said...

yah, agreed. i am glad they opened up to you too, at least you know what's going on now... good luck!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I'm impressed too... and it sounds like you have a few good ideas about changing the class for them.

How about a couple of rituals to start class and clear the air? You could have a vent minute... where they pair up and each has 30 seconds to say what is on their minds... You could follow that with a "these good things happened to me recently" exchange... again, 30 seconds each.

Another thing may be something like treat day --- where they sign-up to bring treats for the group.

Seeking Solace said...

Inside the Philosophy Factory: Oh, I love the ideas you suggested. Thanks!!!!

righteous babe said...

Can I come to class on treat day?