Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Last week was a long week.

The first week of classes always is. The whole shakedown of getting things together, of figuring out which room you're in (and, in my building in the winter, figuring out which rooms have broken heat, so which rooms I will need to be sure to have a sweater for). The whole deal of arranging for notetakers/alternative testing/whatever else is needed for the students with Disability Concerns.

I will say, however, one big concern was absent: the student I had been warned about (or, that I interpreted the warning as in my darker moments, "You're going under the bus this term, but don't screw up and make it miserable for us, too") is no longer on my roster. Never showed up to class. Apparently, this person dropped. I kept waiting for the shoe to fall - Friday was our last add day - but apparently this person will not be back (barring some kind of last-minute freak out "I really do need this class after all" followed by demands being issued that the rules be broken for them - I've seen such things happen for others).

So I am breathing a giant sigh of relief, because when the most upbeat person in the department tells you that the person is a giant downer and they will do nothing but complain at you, that's bad.

I will say I apparently have a couple in one of my classes - man and woman who sit next to each other and giggle to each other during class. "Do you have something to share?" is met with fake-innocent stares and "No." But people like that try my patience and I admit I have a limit of the number of times I will tell them to shut the heck up - if I tell them three times in an hour, and they still keep going, I give up. And I hope one of the other students will turn around and tell them to shut up (I've seen it happen before).

I know a lot of ink (and electrons) have been spilled about the decline in preparedness, or in intellectual curiosity, or reading and math ability of college students. But there's also a decline in simple respect and civility and ability to understand that being in the classroom is NOT like being on your sofa at home. I regularly have "talkers" that I have to keep reminding, "If someone else is speaking, shut up" or that, after I've given up, some other student turns around and says, not at all sotto voce, "I CAN'T HEAR HER. STOP TALKING." (And thank God for those students; the "talkers" seem more prone to respect their peers than to respect me.

And you know? That's what kills me. That's what will ultimately drive me from academe if it does. The fact that there is a small but real percentage of the students who seem to see me as a servant, rather than as someone with more wisdom and experience and who can help them gain experience. The students who come to me and say, "I'm going to miss two weeks for a ski trip, you need to give me the work ahead of time" or "I forgot we had a test yesterday, you need to give me a make up" or similar things - things I would never have DREAMED of asking my prof about. (Even doctor's appointments. Granted, I never had to go to the doctor or dentist on an emergency basis, and I'm willing to forgive that when it happens - but my routine appointments, I just made during school breaks. Or even stuff like, "My bite is jacked up, I think I have a filling going bad," I would make appointments for a time when I wasn't in class. But I regularly have students scheduling routine stuff so they have to leave class early. I suppose it's a matter of priorities and I shouldn't let it bug me, but it does. Because in a lot of cases, when someone skips class, and then something comes up that they missed, they get hostile: "You didn't TELL me." I actually once had a student imply that I was to call him up to let him know there was a quiz the next class, since he was absent from both the class periods where I announced it.

And, don't get me wrong: I like helping people. One of the best things about my career is when a student comes in and says, for example, "I don't understand how the Student's t test works, can you explain it to me again?" and when I'm about 3/4 of the way through explaining it, they go, "OOOOOOOOOOH. THAT'S what I missed." (or: "THAT'S what I was messing up") and they show that they get it now. And most people like that, they thank me for the help, go on their way, and do well on the next exam.

But I've also had people who have skipped multiple classes, and then they come in the day before the exam, and expect me to re-teach, just for them, all the stuff they missed. And when I explain that I can't do that in the time allotted, or that some of the stuff they really needed to be in class for, or whatever, I'm "mean."

And I wonder how much of this is the culture of entitlement/high-self-esteem that the public schools seem to be fostering these days. And how much is the "have it your way" advertising that the students see (There are a couple of online educational programs out there that have ads that essentially imply, either, "You are SPECIAL and UNIQUE and you DESERVE to be taught differently from everyone else," or another one that makes off that taking an online class is like hiring a professor to teach ONLY you, and to ALWAYS be available on command to you. And while I get that one of the big benefits of online learning is that if you need to do the modules of the class (or whatever) at 11 pm or 3 in the afternoon or whenever, you can - planting the idea in the students' minds that there's a prof sitting there, 24/7, at their computer, with no life outside of serving the students' wants - that's a dangerous idea. And one I can see trickling up (or down, or however) into in-person education - I could see someone suggesting we give out our home numbers, so we are "available" on the weekends and such. Which is a very, very bad idea for a number of reasons.)

And the interesting thing is, for every one of those entitlement-minded students, I get one - usually an older student, or at least someone with greater maturity - who looks at what those students do and thinks it's totally nuts. I've had discussions with my senior-level class about things like helicopter parents and it's clear that most of them think it's crazy to have your mom or dad call up your professor if you're doing poorly in class. But there's a large enough minority that seem to think it's just fine - or who think it's fine to come in at the end of the day, after office hours are over, and demand an hour of your time - or who think it's okay to skip class and then demand a personal make-up session for all they missed - that it gets to be really wearing.

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