Saturday, March 6, 2010

A (Teacher's) Rant

My pet peeve as a teacher is that one student. That one student who doesn't attend classes. EVER.

Since the vast majority of my students are in my class to learn how to teach children's literature in educational settings, you'd imagine they would value attending class. And many do. But not the chronic skippers.

Now, I know it's a common belief that you can be a college student, never attend class, hand in assignments and still get good grades.
And I tell you now, NOT IN MY CLASS, KIDDIES! My course is discussion based and built on the idea that the students and I will make more meaning about children's literature by discussing the books together. Reader Response Theory, my friends. I'm all about it.

And as a teacher and person, I know bad stuff happens. I know that individual students occasionally have to miss a class for one reason or another. I respect that. And all I ask is that the students let me know that they have to miss and then approach me to discuss the subject of the session they missed so I can share the key points and activity ideas.

But, within the last two quarters I've had three of these chronic skippers. One went to my class twice. One attended once. And the third I've never seen face-to-face. For reals. And while these students might send one email sharing that they regret to miss my class once, I don't hear from them or see them for weeks at a time. And they usually don't hand in several of the assignments.

This frustrates me so much because my class is only two hours long and it meets once a week. I try to make each class as interesting, accessible, relevant and informative as possible. The same is true for the assignments. And I have trouble understanding how a person can't show up and sit in a chair for two hours, once a week.

Then, inevitably, around week eight or nine of the ten week quarter, I receive an email from the chronic skipper, informing me of their personal sob story, of everything that has gone wrong with them over the last few months. But what they fail to include in these emails is why they couldn't contact me sooner. Did all their fingers break? Did they not have a friend or relative who couldn't get a note to me? They also don't share why, exactly, they couldn't hand in those two to three assignments they didn't complete (or, I imagine, even start). On time. Late. Or at all. And why they didn't look up my policy for late papers which is also clear in the syllabus.

In my replies to these students, I always strive for that balance between respectful and authoritative. But, inside, I am raging.

And that rage is starting to show in my syllabus and class. I've added a note in the attendance policy that if a student misses six or more of the ten class sessions they will fail the course. And I've planned the speech to go with it when I mention this point on the first day of the quarter. It involves phrases like, "If you can't attend class for a few hours a week, how do you think you'll be able to teach a classes from 8 AM to 3 PM, five days a week? HOW?!" and "If you think it's difficult being a student, I assure you, being the teacher is much more difficult. It will take more time, more studying and you'll have to become even more organized. If you can't attend class and complete five assignments as a student, then I don't want to see how you'd do as a teacher."

Except, when I go over the speech in the shower, there's a lot more swearing.

Does sharing this information make me a mean professor? Am I being unreasonable? When I ramble on to friends about these students, they usually think I'm being too nice. Yet, there are students who earn failing grades, but who seem to expect something much closer to the front of the alphabet. And I don't understand. I don't understand at all. And so I rant.

But here's the thing, if I go "teacher as researcher" on myself for a moment, I would look at the attendance sheet and learn that all of my chronic skippers begin by skipping the first week of class. So, when I rant to my students, I'd essentially be speechifying at and terrifying the students who aren't my pet peeves.

Solution? Record myself ranting, post it on youtube and email the link to the chronic skippers when their behavior becomes obvious by week four or five. I'm sure the university wouldn't have a problem with that. Not a one.

Thanks for listening.

*Steps off the soap box.*


  1. I love it! I vote for YouTube.

  2. The freshman architecture studio I TA-ed for this quarter has a clause in the syllabus that says if you miss three class sessions that it's an automatic fail and we meet twice a week. However, this worked, as all of my students at least made a good effort to attend all sessions on time and with completed work. I vote for strict, but open, upfront, and fairly strict.



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