Screaming Into the Void

I am not, by nature, a yeller.  Raising my voice does not make me feel empowered or more present; I do not get emotional relief from screaming or throwing things or pitching fits.

If I did, though, I’d be having a doozy right about now.

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We’re essentially halfway through our semester – we’re in week 5 of 11, with week 7 being the Presidents’ Day holiday (and weeks 2 and 3 being a snow day and the MLK holiday, respectively) and I’m seriously stressing for my poor hybrid composition kids… and for me.

They’re foundering – big time – and there’s almost nothing I can do about it.  We only meet for two hours once a week, and I have neither the tools nor the expertise nor the training or support to have any kind of meaningful contact with them online.  Rather than being able to teach them about the joys and frustrations and successes and hardships of writing, I’m reduced to assigning them chapters to read and exercises to complete on their own in the text book, along with a few writing prompts to work in their notebooks.  This is not teaching, it’s managing, and I hate it with every fibre of my professional being.

My students are stressing out; I can actually feel it vibrating off of them.  Though a good portion of that is of their own making, I can’t help but empathize with them.  Yes, a good number of them aren’t bothering to do their homework (they complained in class today that they don’t “get” the homework, but only two so far have emailed me to ask for clarification).   Though I’ve offered office hours on both Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings, only four of my 27 students have taken me up on it, and no one has asked if I can meet them at different times.  I collected their notebooks today, and a quick flipping-through shows me that most barely bothered to address the prompts I offered them.

What I’m saying with all this is that I understand that I am not solely responsible for their success or failure in my class, that most of the effort has to come from them.  Still, given the format of the class, I don’t feel like I’m able to adequately fill my responsibilities to them as their teacher.  I come home on Monday afternoons with a raging stress headache and an almost overwhelming feeling of ferocious professional frustration.

These kids deserve better than I can give them under these circumstances.  They deserve my time and my individual attention.  They deserve each other’s time and attention in discussions and critique workshops.  They should be able to ask questions, take notes, challenge assumptions (mine, theirs, and each others) and they should not feel rushed or pressured.  They’re being cheated by this hybrid format, and I’m angry – for them and for me.  They’re not learning and I’m not teaching.  The only one who wins here is the college: they get their money regardless.

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14 Comments

Filed under compassion and cooperation, composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, Learning, self-analysis, Teaching, writing

14 responses to “Screaming Into the Void

  1. Can you use some sort of blog as a tool for online discussion? Perhaps putting requirements for “class participation” in the comments and comments to be made in a specified time frame?

  2. But you know what? After having the same struggle, I wonder if there isn’t a bit of learned helplessness going on here– as in “If I slack off, and then get called on it, I’ll just claim I ‘don’t get it’….”

    And the longer the slacking continues, the less “getting it” there will be.

    I had to pull out the “You only get out of your education what you put into it” speech last week. Ahhh, the oldies but goodies.

  3. Kizz, I really WANT to do that, but TCC requires that all that stuff be run off the school’s portal, and that forum is SO difficult to use, SO slow and SO unreliable that I fear it would only add to our collective frustration.

    Ms. C, you’re right – there IS a lot of learned helplessness in there. I’ve practically begged them to call me or to come to the extra hours I’m setting aside (of my own time, btw – the school doesn’t pay me for that) so they can get help. They’re not doing that, and part of me feels off the proverbial hook because of it. Still, though, I KNOW I’m not doing as well by these kids as I want to be doing, and that galls me…

  4. On the learned helplessness, I see it. It is definitely there. But, you know what? They are in for a rude awakening this semester. They may have gotten by with that attitude in the past, but I cannot help that they didn’t learn the prereqs. I have no qualms with failing them. I hate to do it, but I am not passing them if they do not understand the material in my courses.

    That being said, distance sucks. You know how I feel about it. ;-)

  5. Not only do *I* know how you feel about it, my friend, but so does everyone who reads the staff room fridge while waiting for their individual coffee cups to brew; I’ve printed it and posted it where everyone – and I mean EVERY one – can see it.

  6. Lord mrschili I know next to nothing about being a teacher, but I do understand frustration when the system is a hinderance rather than a help.

    I did recently talk to a teacher who had some success with the idea Kizz mentioned. This guy started an interactive blog with his students, and it was closed to anyone outside the class. The kids got into it and commented on a regular basis. I don’t exactly how he worked all that, but it is a thought.

    Dr. B

  7. Xena

    I can empathize with you Chili, but there are a few things you can do to ‘inspire’ them to do the assignments and to ask questions long before the assignment is due. One, is to meet with them individually during class time to review their progress. I’ve found the one-on-one approach works well to ‘inspire’. Two, do not complain about the hybrid situation to them anymore. It simply breeds more learned helplessness in academics. They do not need another reason validated by their instructor for their irresponsibility. Three, if they don’t understand the assignment, review it in class one more time and have them repeat it back to you; sometimes the old military cadence works well. Four, introduce them to the Learning Center and have the coordinator assign a tutor for all homework.
    If after all of that they still don’t do their part, ask them “Why are you here in this class?” and “Why do you want to take this class again?” They’ll get the gist. Let’s chat about this soon. I’ve taught hybrids for 2 years now and I’ve made all of the mistakes. They need to remember they signed up for this so be a hard ass.

  8. Xena, you’re absolutely right about the complaining thing – I’ve decided to not do that anymore, even though it does help them to understand that I really DO get how much it sucks.

    You’ll have to tell me how the tutor assignment works. Are there enough resources for all of my 27 kids?

    I really do get that most of them aren’t bothering to even try, so I’m not killing myself about this. I DO hate that I don’t feel like I’m TEACHING them anything, though. I’m going to ask to not be given hybrids anymore or, at least, insist that I be better trained to deliver them….

  9. I’m sorry to leave a link here, but I have always used the one on one technique I describe in the linked page. While I normally use it for behavior problems more along the lines of discipline, it can work equally well with academic issues:

    http://drpezz.wordpress.com/2008/01/29/do-we-need-classroom-rules/

    Asking why they are there and letting them voice it can be powerful.

  10. Oh, let me add something here, too. One thing our administration is doing is playing departments off of each other. As in, those guys are doing distance courses, why can’t you math and science people get on board?

    Um, because we are trying to figure out how that distance chemistry lab thing works…

    Not all courses can nor should be taught the same way.

  11. sandy

    Hey there,
    I’ve recently taken a bunch of WebCT classes en route to midlife career change (I assume that’s what you’re using) and there was much confusion in some of them! But the very best of them used WebCT mostly in its non-frustrating ways: e-mail and discussion, with heavy reliance on printable attachments.

    1) Using the e-mail function, attach everything as a Word doc. Everything. That way the students don’t have to be lookin’ all over under Assignments, Assessments, Learning Modules, etc. The stuff will be there, also, just as the admin wants it to be, but it’s also ALL in the Word docs that they can print out so the kiddies don’t have to keep clicking a million places for it. (Those learning modules, oy. You have to keep clicking away from them to see what it’s referring to, and then when you click back, you think, now, did I already look at the one, or that one…)

    2) Require multiple posts and responses to posts every week in the discussion areas. Perhaps too late to make them a substantial part of the grade? But the classes where people were constantly posting in discussions have been the ones that worked the best.

    3 ) Be very present on the discussion boards yourself.

    Not to say what you should do…this is just from a student’s point of view!

  12. Ouch. It seems like education these days is getting more and more squeezed and regimented until there’s less and less actual teaching coming out of it. Every teacher I’ve read or talked to sounds utterly fed up and exhausted.

    I was shocked to hear from a friend that his 12-year-old daughter has roughly FIVE HOURS of homework each night! With that, I can easily see how it would swiftly get to the point where kids would not bother with any homework they felt they could get away with not doing, just to have a little time off.

  13. Julia

    Thank you for teaching me a new word! I had never heard “foundering” before. I was only familiar with “floundering.” At first I thought maybe it was a typo, but knowing how precise you are I figured I better look it up. Sure enough, they are both words! One refers to completely failing (foundering) and the other one means just having trouble (floundering). Now I know that if I flounder long enough I might run the risk of foundering! ;-)

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