Thursday, September 27, 2007

dang it, YES!

If you teach college or university, this is probably something you should read: Succeeding on Campus.

The good prof boils it down to a very simple, and so-obvious-we-don't-see-it argument:

Work ethic is what gets you success on a college campus.

Preparation helps - but I've seen students who lacked the educational underpinnings (e.g., they went to a small rural school where resources weren't very good) but who managed to pull good grades by virtue of the fact that they were willing to work hard, that they weren't afraid to come and ask questions, that they gave a damn about their education.

Again, the good prof lists some evidence for his concern about the work ethic:

But then, I started thinking about those questions. They’re really not so humorous. Let’s look at a few that are, to put it mildly, extremely common:

My next class is across the campus and I’m going to have to leave five minutes early each day to get to that class on time. Is that all right?

I missed class last time. Did I miss anything important?

Do you give extra credit?

And let me add a few of my own:

Is this going to be on the test?

That’s not fair (referring usually to an exam question over the assigned reading material). You didn’t discuss this in class/put this on the review sheet/tell us this would be on the exam.

I won’t be in class Friday. Can I make up the quiz?

And my personal favorite:

Is there some reason we need to know this?

These questions, all as common as dirt, have little to do with being academically prepared for the university.

(I have to remark that that "did we do anything?" question, or its eviller twin, "I'm going to miss class on Friday. Are we going to do anything?" very nearly make me come out in hives these days).

As the right wing prof notes - all of those questions fit in with the underlying theme of lacking a work ethic. (Oh, I don't mean that people can't EVER flake out...but it seems that those very questions always seem to come out of the same mouths...someone who thinks they can skip class with impunity also tends to question why they need to learn the topic at hand, or complains because my "review sheet" is just a list of topics they need to study and not a sneak preview copy of the upcoming test)

(And another thing - I don't get the "I need to leave for my next class" comments; I either have people just getting up and leaving - before class time is up - or what is almost worse, starting to pack up their stuff and close their books 10 minutes before the end of class. I suspect that the students have successfully "trained" some professors to end class early with that trick; it is most unsettling to listen to when you're trying to get discussion about the lab going or when you're trying to answer a good question from a student.)

The work ethic question is also why I don't have an attendance policy. I have a student in one of my classes right now - a very bright and capable woman but who has a chronic disease she is trying to get under control. She's still gotten the homework in on time, she had to make up one of the tests (but informed me well in advance, brought a doctor's note, and asked me when it was convenient for ME for her to make it up). And she made an 89 or better on both tests she's taken. She has the work ethic, so I do not feel I should penalize her for being ill. However, I also have students who skip, or who walk into class and see the topic for the day and decide it doesn't interest them or something, and so, walk back out, who never hand in the homework (or try to cadge permission to hand it in late, with no good reason). And they invariably wind up with Ds or Fs. (Which is why I don't have an attendance policy: it all works out in the end without my having to do incredible amounts of accounting and badgering students for doctor's notes when they're sick.)

I'm not one of the "moonbatty" profs that right wing prof alludes to in his article (at least, I like to THINK of my goals is to have students walk out of my class without knowing whether I have a D, an R, or an I after my name on my voter registration card). But yeah - pretty much anyone, no matter how much they pay lip service to the indigo-children-happy-rainbows-and-moonbeams-let's-revive-the-1960s ethos, they're gonna be right in there with the hawkish types like me bitching about:

late papers
students who claim they need a "make up" test when it's not at all clear they didn't just sleep through the first one
students who utter the dreaded "Did we do anything yesterday?"
students who cheat
students who plagiarize. (I had a colleague stop assigning papers - which I think was the wrong response; it's like the cheaters won - because one semester so many of the papers in his class were plagiarized)
people asking for extra credit, ESPECIALLY people who haven't been arsed to do the fundamental assignments for the class

All of that.

And a lot of that kind of boils down to work ethic - or, more simply, giving a damn.

And you know - I think that's a source of a lot of frustration for a lot of people. It's probably one of the great unseen, unspoken divides in America - there are people who give a damn, and people who don't. Or people who give a damn about things they need to give a damn about, and people who don't give a damn about the important things.

How many times have I ranted on here about someone who agreed to do something I needed done, and then called me up later and said they couldn't, and not with some good reason for them to bail, either? That's the whole not-giving-a-damn thing.

Unfortunately for me, I was raised by my parents to give a damn. Maybe even more than that - to give a kilodamn, or a damn to the third power, or something like that. So I wind up all knotted up over trying to get the things I feel obligated to do done, and then I get frustrated with people who don't feel that same sense of obligation. (On some level I realize that that's part of understanding humanity, and realizing that not everyone's as anal diligent as I am. But on the other hand: DON'T miss the due date for a paper that I've harped on EVERY CLASS PERIOD and then show up three days later expecting me to accept a late paper just because you couldn't get your s**t together - when everyone else in the class apparently DID, because their papers were in on time.)

I don't really know where I'm going with this, other than that he's uncovered a secret source of my frustration - and a good explanation for the high drop-out rates among some otherwise bright people.

And also - if you have kids at home, try to instill in them a work ethic. That may be easier said than done; I'm not sure how to do it without actually modelling it (which is what my parents did, I guess, and probably how I internalized that you get the work you agreed to do done and in by the deadline, even if it means you get to have ABSOLUTELY NO FUN and ABSOLUTELY NO TIME TO YOURSELF during the time period you need to work on it.)

1 comment:

Caltechgirl said...

as you might expect I have much to say on this topic as well. Thanks for giving me something to occupy my time this afternoon!