Whose Job IS It, Really?

For their weekend assignment, my composition class was tasked to read a single chapter in their texts about persuasive writing. In this chapter were brief, yet very clear and easily understandable definitions of common terms and concepts used in debate and persuasion: the straw man, the bandwagon appeal, that sort of thing.

Monday morning, I brought in a pop quiz of sorts – I listed all of the terms and concepts explained in the chapter and asked them to choose four of them to explain as clearly and completely as they could.

Care to guess how that went?

What astounds me is the arrogant outrage that some of them expressed at being asked to demonstrate their knowledge of this material. Many of the students were angry at me for (I suppose) having the nerve to expect them to work – to remember the information they were asked to read and study less than a week ago.

A number of students have complained that they’re not learning anything this term – and not just my students, either. Several of my colleagues have complained to me that that their students are dissatisfied. I had breakfast with a couple of my former students last week, and they spent most of the hour and a half we were together to complain that they felt they’d wasted their time this semester.

I’m not taking responsibility for it this anymore. If my students can’t be bothered to commit the major themes of a week’s assignment to memory – assuming, of course, that they actually read the assignment – then how much more can I be expected to do for them?

I kind of bitched them out after I collected the quizzes (I haven’t had the nerve to look at them yet; I’ll grade them tomorrow afternoon and let you know how it went). I think I impressed upon them that I’m really not asking for much, and that the responsibility for the quality of their education lies a great deal with them.

It’s going to be interesting to see how their persuasive papers turned out…

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11 Comments

Filed under about writing, composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, student chutzpah, Yikes!

11 responses to “Whose Job IS It, Really?

  1. Wannabe Renaissance Man

    Hi Mrs. Chili,

    I saw your latest blog and wanted to comment seeing how I don’t teach at your small technical college, but I take classes at it. I too have been frustrated this semester because I feel like I’m not learning anything in my General Ed courses.

    The first thing I noticed starting up school again was how immature the kids are. Maybe I was the same when I was their age, but they seem like 14 year olds to me. I see this across the board at the school. However, I’ve found that many of the school’s teachers also have extremely low expectations of their students right from the first day of classes and their curriculum reflects it. This is a tragic mistake.
    I’m borderline considering writing a letter to the school, requesting my money back for my Environmental Science class. Half of the students talk, play cards and watch movies on their lap tops in the middle of the teacher’s lectures. It’s distracting for everyone, everyone except for the teacher apparently; she says nothing and continues to lecture to my astonishment. Seeing that she can’t lecture, she generally puts a movie on and leaves the room for an hour or assigns us group work where we answer questions. That burns me even more because then I have to work with the immature students I hate. I put this blame on the teacher because I’ve seen these same students focused and committed in other classes. It’s simple, because she treats them like babies, they act like babies.

    My advice to you is to set them up with the understanding that they’re going to be pushed and that you will require a lot from them right from the beginning. They have to understand that learning can be fun, but that they are there to learn; otherwise the time and money of those who do care, is wasted.

    My Graphic Design teacher is considered the Hitler of the department because he assigns a lot of work and he’s critical of student work, but I wouldn’t want anybody else preparing me for the real world.

    Your class was the best Gen Ed I took by the way.

  2. Wannabe, thanks; I really appreciate your perspective on this. I have a lot of readers who are teachers themselves; having a student’s view of things is, I think, important to my understanding of my practice.

    I’ve been fortunate at TCC to have a boss who understands the culture of the school. I’ve tried to be tougher than the average teacher – I think I’ve got that reputation – but we’re also always very aware of our failure rate. Fortunately, my boss doesn’t push us to pass students who don’t do the work (and he understands that it’s the STUDENTS who aren’t doing the work), but there’s always that mantra in the backs of our minds about retention. We feel a certain amount of responsibility to keep the students in the school, and failing them isn’t really conducive to that end.

    I am proud to say that I’ve never fixed a grade so a student passes. I try very hard to be fair and transparent in my grading practices, and I keep copies of EVERYTHING to cover my proverbial ass. That being said, I also hear your complaint about lowering the bar. Remember, though, in our class, how difficult it was to RAISE the bar? A teacher can’t have a conversation about a piece of literature if only two people in the room – herself and one other – have done the reading. I can’t do this stuff by myself; I need to have at least marginal buy-in from the students. Most of the time, I don’t get that.

  3. I am amazed at the laziness I see this semester. For some reason it seems to be rampant.

  4. Wow! That’s frustrating. The Romantic in me would like to think that college-level students would embrace the education provided (and paid for) and fully expect the rigor that accompanies higher learning.

  5. Pingback: Why Not Turn It In? « The Doc Is In

  6. Have you ever noticed what we refer to as the “critical mass?” Sometimes, in a group of students one or two of them will begin to gripe, quit trying, not give a darn. It seems that occasionally, that attitude will infect the rest of the class, so that the core who are unhappy grows. We refer to that as the critical mass of the class. Occasionally, you can just feel the mood of the term shifting to the bad (or the good!).

    Probably, it is more coincidence, dependent on luck of the draw, really. But, I see it happen from time to time here.

  7. Mary

    I have a daughter at a university that has problems with a couple lazy professors. She had a meeting with an English professor who seemed to be more interested in reading a My Space page than talking to my daughter. My daughter is transferring out next semester.

  8. I will be the LAST person to say that the students are the only people at fault here; we, as a society, seem to be getting lazier and lazier, and I know of a couple of co-workers (I won’t call them colleagues) who do the barest minimum to get by. Their thinking (if I’m interpreting it correctly) is that if the students don’t give a damn, why should they waste their effort?

    I DON’T think that way. I have a professional and ethical responsibility to my students, and I take that responsibility as seriously as I take my job as a parent. I am tasked with teaching people necessary skills, and it’s up to me to do whatever I can to see to it that those skills are learned.

    My point is that there’s only so much *I* can do. I show up. I plan. I have lectures ready and materials and assignments that will reinforce and offer practice with the concepts of those lectures. I make myself available to my students outside of the classroom should they need extra help (I give them my cell number, for cryin’ out loud). I’m doing what I can, though if someone has any suggestions for how I can do it better/more effectively? honestly, I’m all ears.

    Someone once commented here that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t hold his head under long enough to make a difference.” I’m leading, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to force the drink down unwilling throats. That’s not learning; that’s drowning.

  9. Darci

    I am an English teacher at a middle school in Los Angeles, where today I gave a “pop” quiz to my students on the 4 types on conflict within the plot structure. It was the last part of the previous day’s lesson plan but one that was important. Wow, the push-back was huge. The concept that I would require them to give back what I had just given them 24 hours ago was beyond them but it certainly got their attention and the minority of the class enjoyed the challenge.

  10. Mrs. Chili stated “we, as a society, seem to be getting lazier and lazier, and I know of a couple of co-workers (I won’t call them colleagues) who do the barest minimum to get by. ”

    Mr. Kant and I would agree with you; I suspect the bad news aout the closing will be used for a while as an excuse. As for students, I think they would prefer that you do all of their thinking and work…sad.

  11. I get the same feeling from the other students I take classes with. The general feeling is, “I’ve paid my tuition, now I should get my grades.” The problem with this mentality is pretty obvious. You pay a membership fee at the gym, too. Are you automatically going to get in shape just because the money has passed hands?

    This is not to say that I haven’t had teachers that really weren’t teaching. I’ve had my share. Did I fail to learn in those classes? Of course not! I get from my classes exactly what I put into them. If I want to learn the material, I have a textbook and seemingly unlimited resources between the library and the Internet. To learn this way means that you have to put forth a lot of your own effort. I just don’t see most of the younger students willing to do that anymore.

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