Friday, January 29, 2010

hope springs eternal

Maybe, just maybe, I won't have a lot of Speshul Snowflakes this semester.

So far my non-majors class looks good - they have asked some very good questions, questions that show me they're actually paying attention. And they've gotten into discussion and stuff. And they've laughed at a few of the intended-to-be-funny things I've said.

Oh, yeah, there's still the people in there who apparently have not had to exercise critical thinking skills, but I have a few "non traditional students" who seem pretty engaged and who will speak even if no one else is willing to.

Hard to tell with my other classes so far. One of them, to my annoyance, turns out to conflict with a one-credit hour course that seniors in another department MUST take the semester they are to graduate...and I always get several seniors from that department, because my class is a cognate for them. So Wednesdays I am missing 6 students from that class. It annoys me but nothing can be done short of changing the time of my class (other department is INFLEXIBLE) and I'm not sure I want to do that, as changing the class to the next most reasonable time would conflict with classes our own majors were taking.

One thing I can say about college teaching for me is, no matter how beaten down and sick of it I am by the end of one semester, I'm back again filled with hope for the start of the next semester - that this semester will be better, that the problems I had last semester could be traceable to personalities in my classes (and they often are) and with a new mix of people things will be better.

I'm trying not to worry too much about the possibility of mass classes in the future. Most everyone I've talked to on the faculty is roundly opposed to the idea (and also, I think, when the admin really looks at the numbers they will see it won't work: if you have to pay someone extra to teach a big class, or give them release time, you will have very small if any savings.) One of our big selling points has always been that we have small classes EVEN IN THE INTRODUCTORY CLASSES and that gets some students who could/would otherwise go to the larger more prestigious schools in the state. And so, I feel like, if we lose that, we will lose our shot at those students - and they tend to be good ones, folks who work hard and get good grades (and could get into those more prestigious schools) and want to do research and stuff.

I'd hate to see us become, as one of my colleagues said, "a glorified community college." Nothing against them, but I had a very bad experience one semester in grad school teaching at one - because of competition between several CCs in the area, this one carved out a niche (I found out later) by having VERY low admissions standards. I had two students who were functionally illiterate. I had others who regularly came to class sufficiently hung-over that they couldn't do anything. The average on my first exam - an exam that my students at the grad school I was going to would have laughed at - was about a 50%. I was called into the office and told I needed to lower my standards and "not disappoint" the students. And after that, I decided, "Well, this is not for me. If I'm supposed to give people the false hope that they can get a better career with a degree from this place, when they have gained no actual skills or knowledge, I don't want to be in on the scam." So I have a skewed view of CCs, even though I know there are many good ones.

However, I do think having "being able to pay the tuition in some fashion" as your sole admissions standard is not a good way to run a campus. Which is seriously what I think the community college I taught at had.

As I've said: the best students we get at my current school are as good as the best students pretty much anywhere. They're the ones who make teaching worthwhile. They're the ones who keep me soldiering on even when there other students roll their eyes, or sit tipped back in their chairs, arms crossed, defying me to "make" them learn something, or who score badly on exams and then come crying to me that they're really making As in all their other classes (which is usually a lie: they forget we can check their transcripts online). And I'd hate for the good students we get to either get fed up (by being shoehorned into 700 person intro sections) or decide to go somewhere else.

Also: if I have to teach big sections, I can't easily do things like take 15 minutes with a student who calls me up with questions that are tangentially related (but interesting, and he is interested in them) to what we are doing in class. If I'm too busy shoveling speshul snowflakes, the students who care and who might reach out get snowed under. And that makes me sad, because it's the people like the guy who called me up and said, "I know this really doesn't relate a lot to class, but if you have time, I would like to ask you about this topic..." that make teaching lots of fun and make me feel like I'm making a difference in the world.

1 comment:

好痛 said...
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