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Friday, September 17, 2010

Yesterday in review

I blasted off campus the minute I finished my last class yesterday, didn't even stop at the office to drop off my huge, wheeled pack that has all my teacher stuff in it. I'd already loaded the student assignments from the preceding three classes into the car, facilitating a quick exit. However, I find that the blog not only helps me decompress at the end of a day (which is its usual primary function for me), it also helps me reinforce for myself what has gone well, reframe what I can do better. So here I am on Friday morning, blogging about the end of the week

And a few things happened yesterday that I thought I did well. One has to do with a student I think I complained about earlier: he had e-mailed me over the weekend to tell me he couldn't do the homework because he couldn't get his books yet, and I told him--quite firmly--that the excuse wouldn't fly, as the books are on reserve in the library. On Tuesday I saw him in the department office and realized he was probably looking to get out of my section and into someone else's. OK. Then I ran into a the colleague whose section the student had wanted to enter: Larry (my colleague) told me about their conversation. I loved how Larry handled it. He explained to my student that we all have to be tough about the rules, especially at first, or students will take advantage of us. He told the student that although I'm tough, I'd work with him to help. He told the student he'd get a lot out of staying in my class. And he told the student that, in any event, it was too late for him to switch boats, as Larry also has rules and a lot of assignments, and the student would be unable to get caught up.

I wasn't sure what would happen next, but Larry's guess was right: the kid showed up for class on Wednesday--with one of the books, and with some good contributions to the class discussion (for which I praised him)--and after class he asked when he could talk to me about his various problems. He came to my office hour yesterday and we worked out solutions so he can get on track. I praised him for coming to see me, for working things out, for sticking with it. I think he has a lot of potential, actually, now that he has had the attitude adjustment from talking with Larry. (I did tell the student that I knew about that conversation: initially I thought he'd been lying about not getting an e-mail I'd sent, but in fact we were talking about two different e-mails, one of which he truly did not get. But I'm glad he knows that professors talk to each other....)

The other thing I felt good about is how I handled the problem of students who hadn't had their books on Tuesday and didn't have their homework either day. In one small group, not one of the three had the book on Tuesday. They were all pretty pissed off that they were penalized an absence for that--but all three had the book yesterday, so they got praised for at least taking that step in the right direction. Another student at least had photocopied the reading: she was in a group with students who had their books and had done the work, but was unable to contribute because she didn't have her journals. I told all four of them that it still was important that they submit the reading journals. They've been instructed to do so via e-mail over the weekend: that way they can get theirs back when everyone else does, and they can have the benefit of my comments moving forward. I don't think it's fair to give them full credit for the work, but something is better than nothing. And they still have the "no books" absence, but they've now been encouraged to do better, given positive reinforcement.

I was a little harsh in that class at a few points, when students were fussing about the work load, for instance, or were making it very clear they have no real interest in putting forth any effort. I said, "If you don't like what this class requires of you, vote with your feet. You're perfectly welcome not to come, to withdraw. But if you're here, this is how my class works." I also said, "Yes, it's a lot of work. Work is how you learn. If you don't go through the struggle, your brain doesn't actually change. And this is a writing class. We learn how to write by writing." I said it all very cheerfully, but I think they started to see that this cheerful and friendly professor has an evil twin....

I'm mulling over how I presented those ideas. I was smiling and cheerful as I said them, but I'm not sure whether I was clear enough--or if there's a way to be more clear without seeming mean. On the other hand, I think there is a place for what the students perceive as meanness, what I see as being strict, firm. God knows some of them need a very firm hand.

But, on a final note about that last class, not only are they beautifully lively (I'm going to spend the semester pulling them out of the rafters, but man, that's so much better than trying to haul them off the floor)--there is one student in that class who is a dream. He has the easy confidence of a person who is readily social, knows his strengths, and has been around the block a time or two and so knows what matters. I was not surprised to hear that he's been in college before. And his reading of the essays is great, very smart, shows refreshing depth of understanding. He popped out with an answer to another student's question that was just perfect: the idea I would have tried to elicit but presented from a student's perspective--and like it was no big deal to get to that understanding. He's going to be a great model for the other students. I'm very happy.

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