Live, Learn, Grow

Project Give Thanks day 16

This morning I had the good fortune to run across this post about the mixed emotions we as instructors experience when students drop our courses, as inevitably some always do. While we resign ourselves to the inevitability, if we have anything resembling a beating, caring heart, we will wonder what we might have done, or not done, to retain the students who withdrew. I’ve learned during the last five years at this job that the drop/add window at the beginning of each semester epitomizes social Darwinism at its finest; at least, in my classroom. I tend to shoot straight from the hip on the first day; this is my class, this is how I do things. I hope you’ll stay, but if you don’t, I won’t cry. If you do choose to stay, you’re going to have to pull your weight or be dragged down. (Confession: I’m softer than a chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven, but I find that this no-nonsense approach tends to earn me brownie points in the respect department from the students who decide to stay).

I realized early that if I lost sleep over every student who dropped my class, I would be an insomniac, but one of the unfortunate side effects of being a teacher with a visual impairment (added to the fact that I’m female) means I have to work a bit harder to earn the same respect and authority as my colleagues. I generally make a habit of addressing my blindness with my students on the first day of class: I simply point to the dog and make a statement along the lines of:” Yes, there’s a dog in the room. He’ll be here every day. He’s a seeing-eye dog, so connect the dots. I’m blind. It isn’t a problem for me, and I hope it isn’t a problem for you, but if it is and you’d like to talk to me about it, I’m open to answering questions, and if it makes you uncomfortable and you’d like to leave my class, I promise I won’t cry.”

Without fail, my roster usually fluctuates for the next two weeks until the drop/add period ends, at which point things settle down. If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think my roster experiences any more student fluctuation than those of my colleagues; if this college education business is a service for which students (or their parents, or the government) are paying, it’s not unreasonable that they’d want to “professor-shop”. Of course, when a student joins my class three weeks in because all other sections of the course were closed and he won’t be able to graduate without said course, I feel depressingly like that $4.00 Christmas album at the bottom of the overstock bargain bin on December 26. The truth also forces me to admit that I often wonder whether the students who withdrew might have staid had their instructor not been “disabled”. While it saddens me to think that they would walk away from a potentially enriching educational experience, some students, as much as we’d like to think of them as adults, just aren’t mature enough to handle such experiences. More importantly, I’ve come to realize that allowing myself to dwell on those students is doing a disservice to the ones who choose to remain—the ones who choose to give me a fair chance, because that decision does require a commendable open-mindedness and a willingness to embrace new experiences. I am thankful for those students, because they are the reason I wake up in the morning and pump my bloodstream full of caffeine. They are the reason I spend hours each day slaving over a dissertation I will probably finish in the year 3015, because without that dissertation I cannot dedicate my life to a career in academe. I’m thankful for those students, because without students, there would be no teachers. I am thankful for having reached the realization that I would do well not to spend sleepless nights counting my lost sheep when there’s a flock in need of my guidance.

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7 Comments »

  1. ohnopogo said

    It is unfortunate how many students will drop classes at the expense of someone else. My mother is a professor and since I began college she has taught me that I DO NOT drop a class unless it is absolutely necessary. I will admit that I am a slacker and often register for classes late, this usually leaves me with the “left over” professors that nobody wants….generally because they are too hard or the classes are too early. This semester I had two terrible professors, and two amazing professors. I will finish out the semester with nothing but C minuses because of the 4, difficult, “left over” professors I had to choose. The countless hours of studying amount to a C on paper, but I am sure I learned more than I would if I had dropped the courses and taken them next semester with an easier professor and made an A. Also, I take medication that messes with my cognition which is also a drawback. Basically, dropping classes is a waste of money and time. Don’t beat yourself up over students that drop! If they are not dropping for necessary reasons (work, moving, medications, issues outside of school), then chances are you DON’T want those slackers in your class anyway. Students that want to learn don’t care who they are being taught by. I find it VERY hard to focus in class when I am surrounded by people who DO NOT want to learn.

    • poetprodigy7 said

      Truthfully, I think we’ve just grown so accustom to this sense of entitlement that we want what we want and we want our money’s worth. Not that we shouldn’t get our money’s worth; college is expensive. Having said that, I attended a small university with a student body of about 9000, undergraduate and graduate combined. IN my major there were typically three or four courses offered a semester, one in each area of literature, so while there were choices, if I liked the class but didn’t like the time or the professor, I was forced to go to class at crazy o’clock in the morning, stick it out with the toughest professor in the department, or take another class, because there was only one section of each course, so I couldn’t take the same course with a different instructor.

      Of course, there were generally more sections of required “core” general education classes, but because the university was small, classes tended to fill up fast, and playing musical professors was sometimes more of a headache than it was worth. I should add that I also taught at this university for a year as an M.A student before coming to the university I’m at now, so I got to see, from the other side of the desk, the logistics of playing musical professors. While I only taught there for a year, I taught four courses, so I had four different sets of students, and I can honestly say that none of my rosters took the entire two-week drop/add period to settle out. I also remember comparing notes with my fellow T.A’s, and they all seemed to agree that there wasn’t a lot of shopping and swapping going on. Usually by the end of the first week, everyone who was there had made up their minds to hang around for the full show, mostly because they really didn’t have much of a choice; all of the classes were full. I think the drawback to being at a larger institution is that students feel more distanced from their instructors, and they’re not always thinking about learning as a two-way street. It’s one thing to drop a class because it conflicts with your work schedule or because you have health issues; it’s another thing to drop a class because you take one look at the syllabus and decide “It’s too hard”, that you don’t want to write a ten-page research paper or read a Jane Austen novel. Memo: Jane Austen never hurt anyone. Actually, if you take a few moments to appreciate her sense of humor, you’ll find yourself laughing, and laughter creates endorphins, which promote healing, ergo: there are health benefits to reading Jane Austen. (and, of course, women have the added benefit of getting a full cardiovascular workout viewing the infamous “wet shirt scene” in the BBC adaptation). .

      The problem is that when students drop the course a week into the semester, they haven’t stuck it out long enough to know just how “hard” it actually is. I think the drawback of having choices means that students are looking for the easy way out and are too afraid, or too lazy, to challenge themselves. If they think college is hard, well, newsflash: the big bad world isn’t all beer and skittles either.

  2. As the person who authored the post that inspired this piece of gorgeousness, I just wanted to say I am with you on all points. I’m no softie. That’s why reaching out like that was a little unusual for me. I had seen greatness in this person. I had come to expect it, so when he disappeared at week 12 — well, I didn’t take it personally. Early in the semester, there is always “schedule-juggling” as students get new jobs or learn that the financial aid they’d thought would come through isn’t coming through. Or, as you said, they see your expectations and go running to find an less rigorous instructor.

    I’m with ohnopogo. I boot people for lack of attendance because I don’t like it when they casually bop in and out. I think it is disrespectful and allows an insidious kind of anti-intellectualism to seep into my class. I don’t want to promote that. Yuck.

    It is nice to meet you. Good luck with that dissertation. 😉

  3. I love this phrase “I feel depressingly like that $4.00 Christmas album at the bottom of the overstock bargain bin on December 26.” It’s terrific. Enjoyed touring your blog

    • poetprodigy7 said

      I’m glad you enjoy reading. :-). I certainly appreciate the visits.

  4. kvetchmom said

    I love your blog! I was such a lazy, idiot student that when I was a freshman in college I would forget to drop classes and just never show up. Thus my transcripts for freshman year are hideous, a true reflection of stupidity. Thankfully I got it together somewhere along the line. So, take heart, I’m sure a number of people who drop your class or don’t show are just drunk.

    http://kvetchmom.wordpress.com

    • poetprodigy7 said

      I’m really glad you enjoy! 🙂

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