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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writing in a bit of a rush

Not a lot of time before I dash off for dinner with Paul, who is down here briefly to take care of various personal and professional matters, but here's the precis:

Among the ten things college professors hate: this is a corollary to the annoying e-mails that ask if the student missed anything; it's the e-mail in which the students asks what the professor covered so as not to fall behind. Although I recognize that at least the student is motivated enough to want to know what he or she missed and assumes that it's something important, the assumption that I can re-teach the entire class for one student, via e-mail, is pretty idiotic--and since I don't just teach from a text book (read chapters 3-5, here are my lecture notes), most of what happens in class comes from the students anyway. Today, I admit, was one of those days when I did a lot more "chalk and talk" than usual, but no way in hell would I be willing or even really able to get all that into an e-mail. I simply told him we'd go over everything about the forthcoming paper and talk about the articles students found if we had time, so my advice was that he read over the paper assignment very carefully and more than once--and contact me if he has questions.

Of course, this is a student who is floundering anyway. Another student was back in the earlier section of 101 today: I can't remember if I've seen him once or twice since the start of the term, but certainly no more than that. I am not sanguine about his chances, but perhaps he'll be the miraculous exception to my experience with students who miss a lot of classes early on.

More worrisome is that I haven't seen or heard anything from the student who was poised to be my favorite student in that particular class. I'm on the fence about whether to contact him, find out what's going on. I may: I really don't want to lose him.

The other class started out with very few people in the room but eventually all but three of the students were there. Of course, it didn't feel like that because there are so few of them to start with, so even if only three people are absent, that's almost a quarter of the class. One I think I'm going to lose completely; I don't know where the other two were, but I hope they're OK.

Even with the absentees (and the virtually new student), both classes went well. I didn't get a chance to review the handbook pages I'd assigned before class, so I didn't go over them: I collected the homework but we can talk about those pages next week, if I see concerns in the homework I collected. I'm interested to note that a few of the students are finally starting to clue in: "Oh! She's not going to write assignments on the board; they're in the syllabus." "Oh! She gave a handout for how to do this assignment." "Oh! I need to do all the parts of an assignment to get full credit." Better now than never, but it does occur to me to wonder if there's anything I can do to smooth that out, or if some of them are just going to have to slowly get on the ball. The latter, I think, but I'm not entirely persuaded I'm right.

One of my favorite moments in both classes was after I went through the whole overview of what their papers should look like, talked about using anecdotal evidence, talked about process, showed them formatting (went through computer hell in one of the rooms: everything had timed out, and getting it all back up again took six years--but it was great to be able to actually show them how to set up a header instead of just talking about it), answered questions, blah blah blah. I finally ran down, and seeing all their faces, I said (in pretend pouty student voice), "I don't like this class any more. This used to be fun but now it's just scary and hard." They all laughed. I don't know why I feel that was beneficial, but I do: gut-level instinct response. I addressed the fear and lightened it up. Somehow I think that works.

And I told them--and reminded myself--that they can start off by using some techniques that worked for them in high school: I want them to feel comfortable about what they're doing, and we can work together on gradually shifting over to a more college-appropriate approach. I'm really the one who needs the most reminding on this: I need to work with where they actually are, not where I think they ought to be. If I don't start with where they are, they'll get too daunted to quickly, and they'll give up in despair. I don't want them to end up in the same place, but I need to take them to the new place, step by step, not demand a huge leap all at once.

So this is my moment (and I'll need many more of them) to remind myself to show them what works and why, what works and why, what works and why--not just point out problem, problem, problem.

It's actually a good approach to use with myself, in fact: remember what works and why, and not focus on the problems. I have ten brazillian things to do, but what works is to just do them in order as they come to the top of the "urgent" stack--or, for the little quick things, clear them out from underfoot right away before they get lost through the floorboards.

On which note, I will send one e-mail, then pack up and head off for a nice meal with a dear friend. Damn, I live a good life.

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