January 25, 2010

Day 10

Posted in Teaching traumas at 12:45 pm by Erin

Good news: it’s a sunny day, which is a wonderful change from the cold, pouring rain of yesterday.  I had a fabulous workout this morning and a delicious and healthy breakfast, and have been playing with K all morning while J is out doing stuff.  J is still excited about this job opportunity and was told his resume is being forwarded to the president of the company 🙂  Yay!

Pardon me while I vent for just a second here.  I have a student (I know, half or more of my vents are about students) who is already driving me crazy.  We cover chemistry early in the semester for background, but my bio majors’ students have a chemistry pre-req to get into the class.  Since I know they’ve already had it, I buzz through it really quickly because I’m really just reviewing it for them and not teaching it.  This student informed me that she somehow managed to get the pre-req waived and has not had chemistry, and therefore doesn’t understand it.  I explained that she would have to learn it and I would answer questions she had outside of class time but that we don’t have time in class for me to teach the chemistry that they’re supposed to already have had.  She was upset about that but didn’t push it.  (And what I didn’t say, but thought, was: There are 23 other students in that class who’ve HAD the chemistry.  I’m not wasting their time and putting a burden on them to learn the other material in less time because I spent lots of class time meeting the needs of 1 student.)

Since the class last week (mind you, we’ve had all of 3 classes), she’s e-mailed me several times.  One was to complain about a question in the online book material that I give them.  She got upset that she couldn’t answer the questions because there was no “tutorial” session online for them.  She apparently missed the part that they’re supposed to read the chapter before doing the assignments, because the answers were in there.  Then, I told my students that we’d be finishing the chemistry chapters and completing the next chapter tonight.  And I said we’d also be starting the one after that tonight, even though it’s not on the schedule to start until our second class this week.  She flipped out.  How can she possibly be expected to learn 4 chapters in a week, she said?  She works full time and is taking another class, can only really study on the weekends, and it’s just too much.

I bit my tongue and replied to her: we’re actually slightly behind because we should have finished the chemistry last week, so we need to finish that in the first 10 minutes of class.  The chapter after that is really short and I expect it won’t take more than about 45 minutes.  With the remaining 20 minutes, we’ll start the one after that since it’s much longer and will take more than one class period.  I explained that since we cover 26 chapters in 30 class days (and 4 of those days are tests), we really need to stay on track with about one chapter a day.  Since I expect this last chapter to take all of next class in addition to what we do tonight, we’ll be exactly on track according to the syllabus.  And I empathized, because I worked 20-30 hours a week through most of college (30+ during senior year) while taking a full load of courses and I know it’s hard to manage it, but that’s what’s required of these classes.  I said to let me know how I could help her stay on track.

Honestly, what I wanted to say was this: it’s an introductory major’s biology class.  I assume she needs it for her future career, which means she really doesn’t have any options…so quit whining and figure out a way to do it!  Complaining to me doesn’t help you learn the material.

She replied and complained more.  No suggestions or ideas about how I can help her, just how impossible it was going to be for her to keep up with the material.  I simply explained that’s the way it works in the class (in nicer words, of course), and reiterated my offer for help.

What surprises me is this: she’s an older student, probably at least 10 years older than I am.  I wouldn’t be surprised to get complaints like this from a new freshman, because they’re not really in touch with college life yet.  But my older students tend to be the most hard-working, “tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it” students.  They have better time-management skills than my younger student because they’ve developed them over a longer period of time.

This is not the first time I’ve taught this class, and we’ve always kept up this pace.  None of the other students have complained.  I think it’s just her.  But if I have to listen to her complain for the next 13 weeks, I’m going to be venting here a bunch more times 😉

OK, back to my good news days: it’s lunchtime!  Food is always good.

August 27, 2009

Totally unprepared

Posted in Teaching traumas at 3:29 pm by Erin

I’ve had to deal with a lot of students’ issues in the past 3 years.  Students who are pregnant, sometimes not happily and often unexpectedly.  Students who have been kicked out of their homes.  Students who are drug addicts or recovering addicts.  Students going through divorces.  There have been many of them.  It’s one of the hardest parts of my job, because I am not a trained counselor by any stretch of the imagination, and yet they’re giving me their trust.  They’re deciding that I’m the person that they can trust to tell about these things.  It’s humbling and terrifying.


Today, though.  Today just whacked me upside the head and I’m still spinning around.


First thing this morning, a student came in to apologize for missing a class yesterday.  She may have been given a drug that rendered her unconscious, after which she was definitely beaten and (reading between the lines of what she said) probably raped.  We talked for a little while before she left, and I offered her my ear if she needs it.  We have counselors and I recommended them but she wasn’t ready for that*.


After my class, a former student came by to say hello.  He looked upset and I asked him if he wanted to talk about it.  He started out sharing that he’s about to get kicked out of the country because his visa will expire and can’t be extended.  Then he started explaining the major cause of upset, which involves an affair, abuse (not of him), and a broken marriage with children involved.  I don’t feel right sharing the details, but he was here for 40 minutes talking about how this situation is happening and his role in it and all.


Again, I recommended the counselors for both himself and one of the other people involved, but he wasn’t interested.  He just wanted to talk about the situation with me and get my take on it.  I reminded him several times that I have no experience in counseling and that I’m not a professional at that, but he clearly needed to talk it out and have someone reinforce his decisions.


It astounds me the thintgs my students go through.  I’m honored that they think I can help, but these stories…they just leave me feeling like I’m flailing about, looking for the right thing to say.  The longer I’m here, the more I hear from them.  It’s amazing how the truth of some of these stories rings through the simplest of words that they use.


It just makes my heart break for them.


*I often recommend our counselors but very few students take me up on it.  It seems easier for them to talk to me about it than to go to someone who’s a professional in what they need.

November 21, 2008

Sometimes I wonder why I bother

Posted in Teaching traumas at 7:19 pm by Erin

Sometimes teaching really drags me down.  I have a lot of very difficult students this semester–the ones who whine about being penalized for not completing the assignment as it was directed, the procrastinator, the ones who don't want to know anything except what's on the test, the ones who just complain about everything (even the temperature in the room).

I know a BIG part of it is that I have no science majors this semester, that all of my students are non-majors and really don't care about being there.  There's very little positive feedback from them in this situation, because all they want is to finish their requirements and get done with the class–and any work I ask them to do is too much work.  They don't need to know this for their majors, so it's unimportant and simply a waste of their time.  I'm trying to keep that in mind, but it's the end of the semester and it's wearing on me.

Next semester, the only classes I'm teaching are for health science majors.  It is a huge difference to have motivated students who want to do well and actually care about the information since they know they will use it in the future.  I'm also trying to remember that.

November 20, 2008

I should start a separate blog for teaching vents

Posted in Teaching traumas at 1:22 pm by Erin

So again, feel free to ignore this one.

A student e-mailed me last night to say that he was really sorry, he couldn't come to the test on Monday because he had to go out of town, and could he take it any other time.  I e-mailed back to ask what was the reason that he suddenly had to leave town on Monday since the test was on the syllabus on that date back in August.  I thought maybe he had some sort of family emergency and was already leaving town, and knew he wouldn't be back by Monday (trying to give him the benefit of the doubt). 

He said he was going to visit family and was really sorry that he hadn't been on top of the flight arrangements but didn't think he could get it switched.  Mind you, we had class yesterday afternoon.  Did he say anything then?  No.  He chose to wait until the last possible minute and then e-mail me, rather than talking to me in person.  I have had several other students who've had the same issue (family members making their flight arrangements without asking them about their schedules), but every one of them came and talked to me about it weeks ago.

I checked my syllabus to see exactly what my written policy is for the class, and it is that they must inform me as soon as possible, all make-ups are essay-style, instead of partly multiple-choice, and they will be given on the first possible date after the scheduled test.  I wrote back that this was the policy and that I would let him do a make-up, but that I had didn't believe that he had just booked the tickets the day before and that he had actually informed me "as soon as possible".  I said something about how it showed a lack of responsibility for his coursework to procrastinate informing me about this until the last minute.

He felt it appropriate to write back and say something to the effect of "I'm sure you can relate in my procrastinating since you haven't written the test for Monday and sometimes don't get PowerPoints up until right before class."

WTF???????????  I'm sorry, what makes you think that's something appropriate to say?  There is a huge difference between procrastinating telling me that you aren't showing up for a test that's been scheduled for 3 months and me working on my PowerPoints until class time because I simply did not have time to finish them earlier.  Or between procrastinating telling me about your flight arrangements and me deliberately waiting to write the test to see what material we've covered before then.  I rarely procrastinate professionally (because I stress about things until they're done, and it's just not worth the stress).  I've been writing the test for the class that I have before that one.  I've been writing lectures for the classes I will see between now and Monday.  Guess what?  You are NOT MY ONLY TEACHING PRIORITY.  There is a BIG difference between prioritizing and procrastinating.

Must go write a test now…ha ha.

November 13, 2008

Just a quick vent

Posted in Teaching traumas at 1:48 pm by Erin

Feel free to ignore it.

Gave an assignment to my students that was due today.  It said right on there that late assignments would be penalized 10 points.  Had a student who came up to me 2 minutes before class to say "I don't have the whole assignment because I couldn't find the sheet that we needed to turn in."  When I explained that I would be happy to help but he would still be penalized 10 points for turning the assignment in late, he walked out of class.  Then he proceeded to write me a long e-mail about how unfair that was and how I should consider that some students might need more help than others.

I never end a class without saying "If you have questions, please come ask me!"  I respond to student phone calls and e-mails as soon as I get them.  I take as much time as my students need to help them.  PLUS, this wasn't a misunderstanding.  This was a case where the student lost a sheet from the assignment that they were to fill out and turn in.  Several students e-mailed me over the last 2 days for the same reason.  I attached the file and sent it to them.  It took 10 seconds each time.  I also posted it on my website so they had access to it without e-mailing me.  FWIW, I gave the assignment a month ago.

HAD the student taken some personal responsibility to be sure that he had what he needed more than 2 minutes before the assignment was due, this would not be an issue.  But to both fail to take responsibility for it and blame me for reminding him that there was a penalty for doing so–that's ridiculous.

If anyone wants to know my biggest pet peeve?  Failing to take responsibility for your own actions.  That would be it.

And now I've given way too much time and thought to this situation.