Saturday, September 13, 2008

First-Year College Students

Inspired by Kate's recent post on gender and students, I found I basically usurped her comments. But I keep thinking that there are all these issues about teaching, scholarship, and service that I want to address -- and where better than my blog?! (Certainly better than going nuts on someone's comments!) So here goes.

Fundamentally, I can't forget that traditional-age first-year students are straight from high school -- some of those high schools were public, some private. Some students had great preparations, some not so much. But one issue that I've had to address with my community college students this week is that I'm not a high school teacher: I will not chase them around for their assignments if they don't turn them in. It's just as easy to fill in zero on my spreadsheet as anything else. If they need help beyond what I can give, there are plenty of resources on campuses designed with their needs in mind, and it's not my job to go ahead and fill in every blank they have. I've had to give several students in one class and more than half in the other my come-to-Jesus speech (I know this is offensive, but I can't think of a better way to say it right now) about getting their assignments done: if they're not able to keep up now, they should just drop. Period. Some students are really not ready to be in college or are in college for reasons other than learning (though I didn't say that). I don't care about turning all my students into great students. They have to come halfway to meet the challenge, which often includes actually having to approach me and ask me for specific help if they need it; if they flake out on that, well, that's too bad for them. (There are shy students in the world, and I try to be as approachable as possible, but there's a limit.)

So why am I so harsh? Well, actually it's because I realize that my students at least are used to looking at their teacher as a surrogate parent, someone they are going to test the boundaries with. Because I really believe that part of my job is to help them make the transition to more self-determined, agency-filled young adults, I believe I do them a disservice if I hold their hands too much and if I give in too much. If they need additional resources to help them with my class, I'm happy to point them in the right direction. I do think long and hard about whether my class is fulfilling what they need, but I also realize that different students need different things -- and I don't worry too much that I'm in the wrong, at least not in front of them. I will spend long hours in office hours at times with certain students. But I don't waste my time over the ones who are just whingers or complainers. The complainers and ones who aren't turning in their assignments need tough love. Period. The whingers probably need to panic anyway. I'm happy to answer their questions and talk with them and everything. But I don't assume that all the panic is about me -- they are making a huge transition in their lives and the first semester is all panic anyway. And if you think about it, they should be panicking. After a lifetime, for many of them, of people holding their hand and coaching them through and helping them figure things out, now they are mostly on their own. Who wouldn't panic?

So this is my sermon on why I feel tough love is often the appropriate response to students. I'll put away the soapbox now. Have a great Saturday!


k8 said...

Did you happen to catch this {,48072.0.html] as it was going down? It is one of the most horrific things I have ever read. I hope you will not be subjected to the "games" mentioned in the running commentary.

but yes, the online shower sounds like fun!

Hope you are feeling better!

k8 said...

looks like the last part of the url didn't come through. It should end with .html