Reaching the Wild Things

images.jpegI may be projecting, but even if I am, it’s a worthwhile thing for me to be thinking about, so here goes; I’ve been wondering what to do about some kids I have in my classes that I suspect might be tough sells on the whole writing gig.

One of the problems that I’ve encountered as an English professor at TCC is that English falls under the heading of “General Education” and, as such, are required courses for all students attending the school, regardless of the program of concentration. “Compulsory” equals “resentment” for a lot of students; being told that they have to take a course raises kids’ hackles (how well I remember resenting the hell out of math classes I’d never use in my real life).

Even when I’m not teaching “required” courses, I do my very best to make my classes accessible and – dare I say it? – fun. I bring with me what I hope is an infectious enthusiasm for my subject matter and for the job that I do. I have faith that every student can succeed in my class and I try to express that faith to my classes as a group and my students as individuals. I love the work that I do and I care about the people I do it with and, most of the time, that’s enough.

MOST of the time. There are always the students who just aren’t willing to join me in the game. The sulk in the back of the room and refuse to answer questions – even ones posed directly to them (I had one young lady in my Tuesday/Thursday class respond to a question I asked her with “No. I’m good.”). Some resort to five-year-old behavior by testing the limits of my patience with snide remarks, prodding for loopholes in my policies, and complaining about every….single….thing that I ask them to do. There are the students who come to class only to see how much of a disruption they can be; answering questions meant to provoke critical thinking with attempts at stand-up humor. There are the kids who don’t show up at all, or do show up, but don’t do anything but breathe in and out for the whole class – they don’t participate in class discussions, don’t hand in in-class writing assignments, and never complete homework. Strangely, these are also the kids who complain when they fail the course.

Now, before I come off sounding all idealistic and pollyanna, I want you to know here that I am neither of those things. I KNOW I can’t reach every student and, honestly? I don’t want to. One of the benefits of working with older students – and something that I believed when I was teaching high school – is that the people I teach are old enough to take on damned near all the responsibility for their own education. I’ll show up and sweat blood to teach well and effectively and to make this material interesting, but I’m not going to hold hands and spoon-feed: I expect my students to show initiative and meet me more than halfway.

For as confident as I am about being a teacher, there is still a lot that I don’t know. One of the tough bits about loving my job as much as I do is the realization that there is a lot that only experience can teach me. I have limited experience in dealing with recalcitrant students. I’ve been thinking about what I might be able to do – changes I could make or tricks I could employ – that might tame the Wild Things or draw out the ones stuck tenaciously in their shells. I’m not sure how I could care any more, but I’m willing to try a lot if it means I can get to at least one more kid than I do.

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4 Comments

Filed under Learning, Questions, Teaching

4 responses to “Reaching the Wild Things

  1. Is class participation a large part of their day, significantly figured into the grading rubric?

  2. Ten percent of their grade, Baby! I’m ALL ABOUT the participation…

  3. I’ve been working to conquor the same problem. One thing that I’ve found that works (to some degree) is trying to connect specifically with the disengaged students. I start each class by either discussing students’ thoughts on their homework or by having them tell me of the issues and triumphs they’re having with the current essay. This gives me a chance to connect with those who are disengaged without them feeling that they’re not being singled out. I try to make sure that I’ve spoken to all of the students at some point during the course of the week.

    I’m not saying that this works for all my disengaged students, but I’ve brought a couple into more active participation through this method.

    Best of luck!

  4. I’ve been in classes where participation was 50% of the grade.

    Also, sometimes, from what I understand, it’s more about beating back your own ennui and stagnation than about beating back the students’.

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