Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Maybe a little success?

Yeah, I know, it's been a while. I've been busy.

And it seems like it's now a truism that every semester, I will have a difficult class, a class with a critical mass (in our small classes, that can be as few as four or five people) that just drag the whole class down and make me want to tear out my hair. It's not always the same class but while it's going on in a class, it gets me doubting my teaching skill - I nearly scrapped and re-did one whole class last semester after having a couple of people who behaved like jerks in there. Now, this semester, that class is SO different, I'm glad I didn't rush to a new textbook or anything like that.

It's a different class that's giving me issues this semester. This is a class that's a cognate for another major (which I will euphemize as Other Major) on our campus. Other Major has the reputation of being "easier" than we are; in fact, several people recently have switched from our major to Other Major after repeatedly failing (usually because of the student's failure to put in sufficient effort) one of our classes.

Also, Other Major has a slight reputation as being a "party" major. One of my colleagues informs me that at conferences that students attend, the faculty and students go out drinking together. Now, that would be one thing, MAYBE, if it were a graduate program and if it were students and faculty going out for a beer or two and a talk. But no, this is DRINKING drinking, not "let's have a beer and talk" drinking. I can't verify that other than that my colleague generally doesn't make stuff up. But whatever.

So, I have a group of 4-5 people from Other Major (well, I have a few more, but they're a lot quieter). I can't tell if one of the guys from Other Major just tends to be a class-clown, or if he's embarrassed/not sure how to act around a female prof (Another fact: Other Major has only one female prof, and apparently she's "one of the boys." I am NOT, in fact, some of the men in my department would not be called "one of the boys.") But he's goofy and it's goofiness that borders on being annoying to me. So far I've done the pained-smile thing response to the worst of it....

There are also a couple other people who like to talk. And like to text. And I caught them passing notes, yes, PASSING NOTES one day in class. (I will remind you I teach college, not fifth grade). I spoke to them about that. I regularly speak to them about the talking being disruptive.(And the giggling. I'm JUST insecure enough that students giggling in class makes me wonder if my slip has come loose and is hanging below my dress, or if I have a bizarre stain on my shirt front, or if I just inadvertently said something that now has an Urban Dictionary meaning*)

But, the victory in all this: The first exam, they did dismally poorly. The students from My Major all earned decent grades. The students from Other Major who are taking the class seriously and participating appropriately earned decent grades.

In fact, one of the crew earned the lowest grade on the exam. I make it a practice to put the average, standard deviation (even though people who haven't had stats don't know what it means) and range on the board. And one woman in the crew started exclaiming, super-loud (so I'm SURE I was meant to hear): "Are you f***ing kidding me? Are you f***ing kidding me? I EARNED THE LOWEST GRADE?!?!!"

(Honey, someone has to. That's kind of how it works)

I ignored the outburst, assuming it was a play for attention.

But I did e-mail their advisors about the behavior and the poor performance. And this past week and a half? They've been a lot better. So I wonder if maybe their advisor took them aside and told them they don't have to LIKE the class, but they have to PASS it. I just hope they do well (or well enough) on this next exam; I'd like to see them get some kind of good outcome from trying to be a little more serious.

(*Oh, and about Urban Dictionary usages.....some years back a colleague came to me and asked me, "Do you know of any 'dirty' meaning to the phrase "shot his wad"?"

Now, I'm kind of old - I knew the phrase as a shooting phrase, where old muzzleloaders were a pain to reload (with powder, wadding, and bullet) and a shooter would not waste a loading on a shot unlikely to strike home - so "shooting ones wad" meant an ineffectual effort.

Alternatively, I knew it as a gambling term, where "wad" meant "wad of cash," and a gambler who had shot his wad meant he had spent all his money, with no winnings to show for it.

But no, now, it means.....ejaculation. Yeah. Great. That was why my colleague's class laughed at him. (Though it gets better: he was using it in the sense of discussion allocation of a plant's resources to reproduction, so in a peculiar way, it was appropriate.) But I worry that eventually so many words will take on secondary, "dirty" meanings that we will have to sharply curtail our vocabularies.....that we are on the road BACK to grunting and pointing as our "language.")

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