2007-02-06 - 5:35 p.m.
..more of a blunder than I thought I guess...
Well, this is my second entry of the day, all about my interaction with students with laptops.
Student 1 came to my office at about 3pm today to explain to me how offended she was at being singled out in class. (She was the one who offered to take notes by hand.) She is a very positive and straightforward person, and she really wanted me to know that she WAS taking notes on her laptop, and looking up websites that were related to the course (and then towards the end...she did start surfing to finish her work for other classes...). I think that I interrupted her pretty quickly and let her know that I was very glad that she stopped by, because I was a little uncomfortable with how the situation had gone. I assured her that I wasn't upset with her, that I felt awful for making her feel singled out, it wasn't my intent, bla bla bla.
It turned out rather well, and I think we reached an understanding pretty quickly. But it also allowed me to hear how much I had genuinely upset students 2 and 3. Upset students do not perform well, and I am not above apologizing for making them feel bad. So I sent them both emails to send them a signal that I'd be happy to talk with them if they are upset. It was easy with Student 2 - she has participated actively in class in the past, she responded to my discussion with her, she apologized immediately, and things were pretty straightforward. It was not so easy to write such an email to Student 3, who stormed out of class without a word. But I did it anyway. Again, a student will not learn if they remain pissed at the professor. To a certain extent this is about following a code of etiquette, I guess.
Anyway, in the end I wound up having a really cool discussion with Student 1, one that lasted for two hours. I got a student's perspective on my department, and on what they want from the program. It was very enlightening in some respects. In other respects it was very disenchanting, discouraging, and disheartening. Because it confirmed some of the undercurrents I've been getting about the course I am teaching, i.e., that most students hate it. I got this impression from her comment:
"I certainly don't envy you for having to teach this course. It's one of the most hated courses in the department."
Kind of hard to miss THAT message...and well, their body language conveys it pretty instantly: they sit there crammed in the last two rows of the room, leaving the first three rows empty (there are only five rows in the room for crying out loud!). Already their physical message has placed a distance between student and professor. Put on top of that the fact that they contribute next to nothing.
I've learned that these have been ongoing complaints about this class, over the years. It is part of the department mythology - passed down from cohort to cohort that this course is lame. And so their collective attitude of complacency was a foregone conclusion, before the course ever began. Several decided from the start that this was a waste of their time, and so there was no point, because this material will never affect them or be about them. And so there is no giving me, or the material, or any of the changes I've made, a chance. And so I'm frustrated. And discouraged.
I guess that we wouldn't chalk this up to being one of the more stellar days of my teaching career.
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...they are just words, Suzi... - 2011-08-29