Well, another semester has begun. I have one section of English 102 (emphasis on argument and rhetoric) this semester, and a Tuesday/Thursday day time schedule--the best of all possible schedules. That leaves M/W/F for whatever it is I do when not teaching.
It looks like my section this semester will be a "good" one--that means, thoughtful students, who give every appearance of being interested in learning, who participate in class discussions, who take notes when I lecture (with the help of PowerPoint) and who actually read the text from time to time.
But, not everyone has a good section. From my colleagues, I have heard that students have made the following comments: "do I have to do this work at the beginning of the semester? I took the course last semester and have already done this work." This from a student who failed the course last semester and, in retaking it, has the same instructor! And another comment--"I didn't come to class today because you didn't list it on the syllabus that we have class." The exasperated instructor points out that the syllabus lists classes by the week, as in "the week of February XX, read these pages" etc.
I have had bad sections in the past. One semester, the students just seemed to feed off each other's misbehavior. They talked over each other, and over me, they made totally inappropriate snickery comments, they made racist and sexist comments. They did not read any assignments, they resented every requirement of the course. And so on. In desperation, I asked my husband, an educator, what to do. He pointed out that groups go through "storming, forming" times--when they first get together, they test the limits and boundaries, and then settle into whatever norm they will hold. Well, this section certainly stormed, but never formed. Then my husband noted, there are some groups that NEVER settle down--they are bad at the outset, and stay bad. Yeah, that was that group.
Thankfully, every semester ends.
But, for now, we are at the beginning--and as the semester moves along, I will learn who will mysteriously stop attending classes and not tell me he or she has dropped the course, who has more excuses for not attending than there are days of class, who actually does the work, who writes well, and who cannot put two words together and make any sense.