Monthly Archives: January 2011

Oh, did we start, already?

So, semester started last week. On a Monday, no less, and how’s that for unusual? Although the start date of semester has been available since the calendar for the 2010/11 academic year came out in, what, MAY of 2010, many ‘flakes failed to grok what “start” actually means in this context.

Yes, the first day of class is kind of weaksauce, because we are meeting for the first time, and even I don’t think it is possible to email students before semester starts and get them to do preparation work in advance. I did try it once, and it worked about as well as you would expect, which is to say, not at all. However, we all have to start somewhere. Having a first day means I can set reading for the second day, which is then when the actual learning starts to happen. At least in theory.

(Missing the first class can mean you also miss vital information like “we only meet once a week, and the other day is for online learning,” which has resulted, this semester, in half a dozen students in my online class milling hopelessly around campus on Tuesday afternoons. Only one of them was bright enough to try contacting me via email to try to discover what my deal was.)

As I am sure you can all imagine, dear readers, literature classes involve the discussion of literature. In order for discussion, as opposed to lecturing, to happen, students need to do the reading. I provide a list of readings, and generally nag students to do the reading. When they don’t, I do mean stuff like calling on them and then embarrassing them when they admit they haven’t done the reading. This often makes the ones who don’t want to read and don’t want to get called out drop the class, which is fine by me. It winnows the class down to a smaller group who want (or are willing) to read and talk about the reading, and then we all generally have a good time.

This semester, I am teaching a class that meets only once a week, for 3 hours, instead of meeting 2 or 3 times a week for shorter periods. This means, among other things, that the first class, in which not much happened, was actually a WEEK’s worth of classes. I actually gave students some reading to do in class in that first class, and very sternly said “THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN,” just so they didn’t get some goofy assumption about not needing to do their reading.

The students who came to the first class, then, were prepared for the second class, having done their reading, and in some cases, even optional homework. That was great. Or, it would have been great, but for the 14 people who hadn’t bothered to come to the first class.

I am not talking about one or two random slackers here, but HALF the class, who didn’t bother, and who also didn’t bother to send me an email in the intervening week asking if there was anything they should catch up on. Oh, no, wait, one of them emailed me an hour before class to do that, which was a nice show of willingness, except it was totally ineffective.

These dozen or so students clearly thought missing that massive block of time wasn’t an issue because nothing happens in the first class. Except, of course, some things did happen, not the least significant of which was preparation for the second class. What are we going to do for 3 hours in class if you haven’t done any reading? The mind boggles.

Rather than accommodate their nonsense, I sent them all to the bookstore. “You need to read the first 2 stories,” I told them. “Come back and join the class when you are done.” This radical approach to not letting them sit in small group discussions like a bunch of wet puddings was really upsetting. One girl asked me 3 times what time she should come back. “When you are done the reading,” I replied. “No, like what time?” “When you have finished reading the stories, come back,” I said again, while she looked at me like maybe I was speaking German.”So, like, I can just come back when I am done?”

There were two dipsticks in the front row who appeared to be sharing a brain between them really didn’t want to go buy their books at all. “We didn’t do the reading,” one of them said, possibly because she was in charge of the speech centres at that moment. “Why not?” “We were not in this class. We switched from another teacher’s class.” Oh, shoppers. The phrase “because we thought that other class sounded like too much work, and we are hoping that meeting once a week means you are more slack,” hung unspoken in the air. I suggested that they do what I said and go get the book, then. “But we just joined this class.” “Yes, and now, in order to participate in it, you need to go get the book and read the material.” They had a whispered consultation, pressing their heads close together to facilitate neuron synapsing, and eventually left.

Once all the flakes had blown out of the room, I turned to the ones who were actually ready to be university students, and took attendance, saying I would give them a bonus participation mark for being prepared. This is a devious tactic designed to bring them into an in-group with me, united against the slackers.

We got on with class, and gradually, over the course of the next 90 minutes or so, the flakers drifted back in. All except 2 shoppers, who had left their laptops in the front row. We took a short break at this point, mainly because I had to pee. I was out of the room for no more than 3 minutes, during which time, they snuck into the room, grabbed their stuff, and fled.

“Oh, they bailed?” I said, when I noticed. “Awesome.”

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Damned with faint praise.

So, I finish class, and deal with the questions at the end, and then I leave the classroom and a clump of students are following behind me, and they have this conversation:

Student 1: So, was that an hour?
Student 2: Hour and 15 minutes, I think.
Student 1: Huh. It didn’t seem that long.
Student 2: I know. Some of that discussion was actually kind of interesting.

I don’t know whether to feel flattered.