Deeper into the brave new world

Too much work. That’s what my students told me in the midterm survey I usually give– anonymous, of course. (I used I hear this a lot. In my own defense: I do assign a lot of work. It’s a writing class, after all; you can’t teach writing unless you write, and you gotta read about why if you’re going out into the world of the 5PE (5 paragraph you-know-what). I’ve also figured out the minimum amount of time the College says students should be spending per credit hour. Trust me: I’m within those ranges.

But the tenor of the comments this year was different. 24% of the responders checked the “I’m dying” box and several students added pointed comments, e.g., “None of my other classes have this much work.” (Boy did I bite my tongue when I read that.)

So I folded. But rather than just say, “O.K., I surrender, no homework,” we had a chat, similar to chats that have framed every high school class I’ve taught.

Who’s responsible?

For example:

  • If students are confused or want to discuss something specific, do they sit back and wait for their teacher to exercise advanced mind-reading techniques or do they take initiative, bring it up in class or with the teacher 1:1?
  • If they wish something were different, do they gripe about it in the bathroom then paste on a smile & go back to class or do they come up with ideas and bring the ideas to the teacher?
  • What tone are they using when they talk with their teacher? (One of my students offered the comment her own mother, a teacher, uses in her classes: “Tell me something without whining.”)
  • If they aren’t sure whether they’ve completed all the assignments, who should have that information?
  • If they’re bored, what are they doing to allow it to continue? And I don’t mean complain about it. What’s their part in the boredom– what are they doing (or not doing) to allow it? What actions can they take to change the situation? Their attitudes?

Naturally, similar questions apply to me as the teacher.  Have I designed a learning environment where students do something? Tangle with real ideas & figure out where they stand? Create something? Solve specific, concrete problems and produce tangible results? What kind of say do students have in what we do or how we do it? Do I create activities and assignments where they have to risk thinking for themselves? Do my interactions with them 1:1 or in discussions convey my expectation that they connect and respond ?  This kind of framework seems foreign to most of my students.

We had a good discussion; we’ve made some agreements about what we’ll be doing differently. I didn’t understand the push-back I’ve been getting until now. I think my smart, funny, compassionate, committed students just want the kind of teacher they’ve always known.

I’ll leave teaching before I do that.

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